Tar Heel Shared Reader

Wow! Over 3000 Books at Tar Heel Reader

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When we started I imagined we might make it to 1500 in one year. After 10 months we’ve passed 3000! We’re currently adding over 125 every week. We may make 4000 by the anniversary of the site on May 20th.

Support Tar Heel Reader

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Tar Heel Reader always has been and will remain free for anyone to use.

That said, it does cost something to run this service. For example we bought a new server to run the site because it was getting too busy for the shared system we were using. The $2,856 for the new hardware was covered from funds that were intended for other purposes (like supporting students developing the next big thing).

Several of you have asked how you could support Tar Heel Reader. Here’s your chance. You can give online by going to the college giving site. When you get there, fill out the required personal info, and then under Gift Designation, select Other, and fill in Tar Heel Reader in the box labeled Department or Fund. I wish we could have a simple Donate link using PayPal but the university doesn’t roll that way.

Or, if you prefer, you can mail an old fashioned check to: Department of Computer Science, Sitterson Hall CB3175, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. Make it payable to the Department of Computer Science and mark it for Tar Heel Reader.

In closing I’ll repeat that Tar Heel Reader is free for anyone to use.

Where in the world are the Tar Heel Readers?

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Ever wonder where in the world people are using Tar Heel Reader? We’ve cobbled together a page to show just that. Check out Where Are The Readers. It will show you a world map with dots depicting our best guess for the geographic location of our users along with a tabular summary of the same data. The full red dots represent more than 1000 books read. The lightest dots represent 1-10 books read.

Authors who are logged in can also see where their books have been read. I find it very exciting to see so many people enjoying our books. I hope you do too.

Check out the Tar Heel Reader Forums

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We have added a new Forums page. You’ll see the link near the bottom of the navigation list on the right side of the page.

We created a few forums already and if there is sufficient demand we can easily create others. Feel free to initiate or join discussions on topics relevant to you or your students. We hope you’ll share ways you are using the site in your curricula. For example you might want to share a list of books and lesson plan you use to address particular subjects.

Our hope is that you will use these forums to talk to one another and build up the community of teachers, parents, and learners who are using Tar Heel Reader.

New Hardware for Tar Heel Reader

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Tar Heel Reader has become so popular that it is overloading the computers that run the site. To keep the service working we have purchased a new computer that will meet the demand and allow room for continued growth.

Switching over to the new hardware will begin Thursday 15 January, at about 9AM EST. During this first stage you should NOT notice anything and the site will not (I hope) go down. If you do have notice a problem, please let me know.

In a week or so we will have to take the site down for a few minutes to do the final part of the move. We will try to do this in the early morning when use is the lightest. Again, if you experience a problem, let us know. We always appreciate your feedback.

Another milestone for Tar Heel Reader

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This afternoon we exceeded 100,000 books read at Tar Heel Reader! I’ve done my best to filter search engine spiders and bots out of these numbers so I believe these books were read by people.

Other statistics include:

  • As of this posting there were 1454 books on the site with about 90 added each week.
  • Books have been read by over 9,500 different computers in 59 countries worldwide.
  • Our computers have responded to 7.3 million requests totaling more than 64 gigabytes of data.

Read it again

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If you click on the caption on a book page when speech is enabled, it will read the caption again. This should also work on the questions at the top of pages like “What do you want to do now?”

Thanks to Dinell and Gretchen for the suggestion.

Major power outage

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Most of our campus was dark for several hours today after a failure at a power substation. Tar Heel Reader was down all afternoon. Everything except downloading slide shows appears to be working. I’ll restart the computer that handles those downloads tomorrow morning.

Chasing bugs

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There is some bug in the book wizard that occasionally causes an error message when you try to save. I get an automatic error report when this happens and I have seen it happen to a couple of you. I made some changes today that I hope will cure the problem and I improved the error reports so I can learn more about what is happening if not.

My current theory is that it is related to saving your book after a picture search that has not yet completely finished updating all the little preview pictures, perhaps because of network slowness. If you see this problem, wait about 15 seconds or so for things to settle down and try saving again.

Also, as always when using computers, the best advice is to save early and often.

I apologize for the difficulty this has caused some of you.

Book Preview

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Sometimes those tiny pictures you get in the book writing wizard are pretty hard to see. Wouldn’t you love to be able to see how your book will look before you publish it? And those of you whose students are writing books, wouldn’t you like to let them see their book but keep it in draft status so you can edit it for spelling and grammar later?

Well now you can. In the book wizard you’ll notice we have added a Preview button. Press it while you’re working on a book and it will first save your work as a draft and then pop up a new window with a preview of how your book will look when published. When you’re done previewing the book, click the Return to Editing link (or simply close the window) and you’ll go back to the book wizard where you left off.

Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Improvements to the Flickr picture search

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I just made a small change to the picture search you use to find pictures on Flickr. Previously it had found pictures that had ANY of the tags you provided. Now it finds pictures that have ALL the tags. This is what I intended all along but I got it wrong in the Flickr API. Now it is fixed.

So, suppose you’re looking for a picture of an apple still on the tree. The comma separated tags apple,tree,leaves finds a good selection of relevant pictures.

Another example. If I search for blue bike (note no comma) I get 4 pages of pictures. If I search for blue,bike (note the comma) I get 118 pages of pictures. The first query requires a single tag with the words blue bike in that order. The second query requires the tag blue and the tag bike in any order.

Bigger next and previous page links

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I squared up the links in the lower left and right of the page when reading to make them easier for mouse users to hit. Let me know what you think of this change.

Improvements to the book editor

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I have installed a completely rewritten editor for creating books. It looks just about exactly like the old one so hopefully you won’t be distracted by the changes unless they make your life better. If it looks much different then I’ve introduced some bug and you should let me know.
The new editor doesn’t need to refresh the page on every click like the old one did. You should find it works faster without so much scrolling of the page. For example, in the old editor, every time you clicked to move a picture the page had to be redrawn, causing it to scroll back up to the top, which then required you to scroll back down to see your book pages. Now it should stay put as you move pages around.
You can also drag and drop pages to rearrange them. Simply click on a page and drag it to where you want it to go. It takes a bit of getting used to how it decides where to put the page. Don’t worry, the buttons are still there and work just the way they did before, so you don’t have to drag and drop unless you want to.
Finally, you’ll see the “Save my book as a draft” button is always present, even when you’re editing a book you previously published. Now you can revert a book back to draft status if you wish.
As always, please let me know about problems you see.

Share your stories

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Tar Heel Reader is approaching an important milestone … 1000 books! In celebration of the success our accessible library of books for beginning readers of all ages, we’d like to receive stories of the individuals who are using the site. We want to know what you think and hear about the students who are enjoying the books.

Simply add a comment to this post to share your stories about the readers who are using Tar Heel Reader.

How to use the Favorites page

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Check out the quick screencast I made demonstrating how to use the Favorites features of Tar Heel Reader.

The Favorites page allows you to give your readers a choice among books that you have reviewed for appropriateness. Once you have the page setup with speech, color, and the books you want, just bookmark the page and you can come back to it later.

Let me know if you find this screencast useful.

Small changes to slide show format

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I’ve modified the title slide on shows you download from the site. It now includes the author’s name and the picture is larger and has the right shape.

As usual, let me know if you see any problems.

Simplified Title Pages

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The changes I rolled out today are intended to simplify the title pages of books. You’ll notice the controls have moved over to the left side and the picture is now centered.

To control speech you can click on the last 4 icons in the column at the left. I tried to depict the idea of silent, child, woman, man for the voice using a little family icon I found.

To control page color use the Setup button with the book icon. That page will also allow you to download the current book or to rewrite it as a new book. When you’re done with your setup click Return to Reading to return to the book you were on.

Please help me with bug reports. I don’t know about problems unless you tell me. Don’t assume that you did something wrong.