I had the pleasure of giving an instructional session to a class of graduate students on Monday, November 24th. The topic I had been asked to present was an extended version of the Artificially Enhanced Research session that I gave at Software Freedom Day earlier in the year. Apparently one faculty member was so impressed by seeing LibX and Zotero in action that he pushed to make this a mandatory session for all of the graduate students in his department. Cool! And a bit scary, too; it's one thing to present to people who are interested in what you have to say, but another thing when your audience is captive and have other demands on their time.
So of course it all started as poorly as possible - while plugging the VGA cable into the projector, my laptop suddenly died. Kaput. No power, and pressing the power button resulted in no response at all. Normally I wouldn't sweat too much, because I usually send the presentation in advance via email and copy it to a USB key. But this was, of course, the one time that I didn't take defensive measures. On top of that, I intended to run the presentation with lots of live demos and knew that my laptop was happily configured. Finally, I had come down with a killer head cold the day before, and the only reason I even showed up at work was to give this presentation - so my mind was already fuzzy (that's what I attribute my lack of file copying precautions to).
So, I went ahead with the session doing a live demo of everything on a machine that I had never used before with an operating system (Windows XP) that I rarely use and a keyboard layout (fr-CA) that I also rarely use... in the throes of a virus. With my wife (she's a grad student in the program) in attendance. Pressure much?
As it turned out, things went quite well. LibX and Zotero installed happily on the semi-locked down workstation and the only piece I couldn't demonstrate was Zotero's integration with Word - but I was able to vouch that it did work as one would expect and hope. In fact, doing everything from download and install to actual use live without a net was probably the best instructional session that the students could get - it made all of the steps nice and concrete, and reassured them that this wasn't something that only propeller-heads would be able to use.
Most pertinent question that I wasn't able to answer at the time: Does Zotero offer duplicate detection and elimination? The right answer is "it's been on the roadmap for a while, but there are no guarantees (and I can't sign up to add that feature, sorry)".
Oh, and the whole laptop dying thing? Apparently your laptop battery can act as a sort of circuit breaker - so if the laptop gets zapped by a jolt of static electricity, the battery can disable power to the system and protect it. After making the walk of shame to the local computer store for support, it turned out that I simply had to remove and reinsert the battery to enable the laptop to start drawing power again. A good lesson to learn, I suppose, and hopefully one that I'll remember the next time I find myself without any backups on hand in front of an expectant class