Over the past several months I aimed to improve my understanding and knowledge of information technology and how I use my computer. I have let things slip a bit since I was in high school and learned to program in Basic (yes, on punch cards and TRS80 computers with cassette tapes as the recording medium). At university we had to programme the formatting in a program called Wordperfect, but it was so much better than typing. I also learned how to make web pages using HTML markup. Since then I actively avoided learning anything really new, I just tried to keep up with the updates of those things I already was familiar with. Its not that I was afraid, or that it is too hard (though some of it is), it was that it became a bit like taxes and keeping one’s car running. As long as it works, and someone else can fix it, why know more?
This sounds like an old person. I am not ready to be old yet, so I decided I would learn some new tools and enter the virtual world in a way that enabled me to feel connected to and be able to connect with others. This matters particularly to me as I am generally functionally illiterate here in Hong Kong. Connecting to others in my own language helps me maintain a sense of identity and intelligence. As a dyslexic and an academic, language is both a curse and a gift. I recon the more tools you have for communication the better. It is like a big vocabulary, it gives you more options.
I have made some false starts, some things remain beyond my capability (for example messing around with the formatting of this blog), some things don’t quite work for me yet (and maybe never will), but many have enabled a whole new, and much more efficient way for me to work. I am certainly more connected. Here is a list of what I use in an average day that goes beyond the usual Office software. Most works on both Mac and PC, though there are a few things that are specifically useful on iPad/iPhone.
You can click on the following links to jump down the list to the relevant categories:
Reading, Writing and Organising
Web only based utilities
Technology I use
Reading, Writing and Organising software:
- Evernote. This programme is cloud storage but with file organising. I have come to love Evernote. It stores documents, PDF files, photographs, but what is best is that it also allows you to store web content. I have installed the web clipper thing-y and can now also download web articles into my folders–all readable and printable. Evernote has allowed me to organise in a way that the desktop and file system on my computer just doesn’t. Also, because it is web based, you can share documents and folders on an ipad. My daughter told me about this and for that I am grateful.
- Endnote. This programme is for bibliographies. I have used Endnote for a long time. I am probably a bit too wedded to it but the idea of typing all those references into something else is a bit frightening. It works with word (most of the time) and in papers it formats my references list in ways that do the trick.
- Dropbox. This is cloud storage. I started using this as a way to share photographs, and then as a way to store stuff so that I could get at it all the time. It was kind of my precursor to Evernote. I still use it to store documents that I don’t need right away but really want to keep handy. I know this isn’t the most efficient use, but it works for me. What I particularly like about it is the fact that the finder on my mac treats my dropbox as thought is is just another part of the disk drive. As such it makes my computer bigger. Who could argue with that. It also allows me to look at files from my ipad.
- iAnnotate. This is a new programme for me. Doug Robinson told me about it. It works with the iPad particularly. What is great about this programme is that it allows you to annotate files (PDF and photographs) directly. You can write or highlight and it will save the comments you make with the document (which you can then put into an Evernote folder). This is the best reader application around I think for these kinds of documents. I have also discovered you can write or type on a PDF in iAnnotate, just like a piece of paper, save it, then email it as though you printed, signed, and then scanned or faxed it to whomever needs it. A real time saver for contracts and such.
- Kindle for iPad. This is a great way to read books. And it is portable. You can write notes and highlight. Ever wonder where those notes/highlights go? There is a web site, just for your kindle that keeps all that info for you. If you are friendly, you can also make those notes public. You can also see what other people have annotated as well. I like this feature. I know there are ways to download and alter book codecs and get the books for less, but I am happy with paying because it gives me the kindle options. For more info on the kindle page where your notes are kept see this link from Michael Hyatt. It even has a handy guide for downloading them (and it works!).
- JotNot Pro. This little iphone app (works on iPad too) turns your iPhone into a scanner/photocopier/fax machine. It is great for small-ish jobs. I have used it for official documents that need a signature and it works a charm turning photo’s into PDF files that can then be emailed directly from the application. Don’t know what I would do without it.
- WordPress. Acutally this isn’t as much of a “Well, duh!” comment as it might seem. When I started blogging I used the one that google supports (Blogger). I found it ok, but a bit boring, and it was lonely. WordPress has community. People find you. You find people. Its all a bit more group-y which is what I wanted. One thing I didn’t understand at first is that WordPress.org is not the same as WordPress.com. Org is a bit more advanced, while .com is a bit more for those who need some handholding.
- Tumblr. This is also blogging space. Now you might think if one does wordpress then why do Tumblr too. I use Tumblr kind of differently. Tumblr is more about photo’s with a bit of text, not too much, but not as short as twitter. It is also a good place to reblog things. While I like and ping back and reference other people’s web pages on WordPress, I want the actual content to be my own and I want it to be a bit more developed. This is where Tumblr comes in. I can dash out quick paragraph or thought and link it to a photo that I can develop later. Or, if I find something longer and interesting I can put it there too. Plus, if you aren’t so good at this blogging thing, its is a great place to get started as, like WordPress, people find you and you get to know that info. The crowd is a bit younger though and one finds a lot of teenage romance and angst. Just be aware. Update 26 Jan 2014: I find I no longer really use my Tumblr site for anything other than to convert emails I receive about events, etc. into a web address that I can then share on Facebook or Twitter.
- Twitter. I am still coming to terms with twitter. I have come a long way with it since I first started tweeting for real. I’ve learned some things in that time which include:
- Avoid the uber famous twitterers unless they really have something to say. Better to find people who are not so popular but have interesting and relevant things to say and who will say them to you and respond to you. You can have conversations on twitter, which can be fun. Sometimes people re-tweet. The Uber famous don’t tend to participate in this, at least no in my experience.
- Tweet content to people rather than silly stuff. Twitter is not just real time Facebook status. You will bore people with this nonsense because they are generally not (yet) your mates, your Facebook friends are and you can make that stuff private if you want. It is important to be aware of this difference. Instead, tweet links to blog posts, news stories, web pages, of interest to you. You will attract followers who are also interested. They in turn will tweet content you are interested in and if you follow them, you will find out about that stuff. Win-Win.
- Use Twitter as a curatorial tool. You can star tweets with links you like. In your twitter homepage you can then go back and look at those links and digest them or refer to them again.
- Being polite and friendly is a good thing. If someone retweets your comment, check them out. If they follow you, thank them. Personal touches make for better twitterverse friendships.
- If you are attending an event, use the event’s hashtag in your tweets and follow the conversation along with the event by searching the hashtag for the event (and if you are putting on an event let everyone know in advance–like a couple of days or more in advance–what the event’s # is). I was recently at a symposium and there was a really lively twitter conversation going on that throughout the day, which included questions, comments and summaries of what was going on. People at the conference, but also people who were miles away participated. It is all about sharing. You can’t share if you don’t know, so know your event’s #.
- Lots of people tweet. Lots of people you want to connect with tweet. It is a really useful tool for academics as it allows not just sharing of academic knowledge, but also enables you to connect with people who are not academics but have really interesting things to say about the topic of your research because they are the end users or are experiencing what you research first hand. Given that these folk do not tend to attend academic conferences, it is hard to reach them. Twitter moves you into their world. I add this point specifically to academics because that is where I experience the specific advantage and because so many of those academics I talk to who do not tweet are rather disparaging of twitter. They are missing a trick.
- Storify. This is a recent find for me. Storify lets you construct narratives based on key word searches on popular social media sites. I discovered storify when a link was sent to me after I attended an event. The Third Sector Cafe, who were the people who put on the event, went through and selected a range of tweets that had included the event’s hashtag to construct a narrative of the event (find the storify here). Not only is it nice to see how a particular event played out, but it also brings together a nice summary of what happened on the day. I thought this was such a good idea that I recently produced on of these from a symposium I attended on Food Sovereignty. You can find the storify I made of the day’s tweets here.
- Buffer. This is a new addition to my list. One of the things I notice is that sometimes people go on tweeting rampages and my twitter box gets filled up with long lists of the same person’s tweets. Buffer allows you to spread them out (you can also use it to spread out your status posts on facebook). Danger is that you just tweet without actually looking and engaging with what is going on in the Twitterverse/facebook land. This social media thing is all about conversation and connection after all, so use to schedule but don’t make it your exclusive way of engaging. That is boring. No one wants to be a MII.
- Facebook. I got into it because my students/children were into it and I wanted to know more. I do have friends on FB and while it sometimes seems like most of my friends are interacting elsewhere, this has improved recently with my newsfeed filling up with info from a wider range of my friends. Actually this is one of the things that really annoys me about FB. I want to know what everyone who is my friend is doing (unless they are playing games), not just those friends FB thinks I want to know about. I have kind of a love hate thing with it. I use it for casual stuff. Comments I would say to friends, random observations, and for seeking advice. It is great that way. FB is like a weekend. I really like the message function as well. This way I can contact people and don’t have to remember an email address. I just click on their name and off we go.
- LinkedIn. If Facebook is like the weekend, then Linked In is the work week. It is professional networking. Definitely not the place to share your latest favorite cocktail or to ask questions about grammar construction. Linked In is also a bit like my file-o-fax. I can keep addresses that I have acquired from business cards and then follow up later. I also can get a bit of an idea what is interesting to people professionally and then follow up personally, via email, as I run across information that is relevant to them. A good way to keep business connections going and to advertise your own expertise.
- Whats App. This is an iPhone app and I use it a lot with my family. It allows conference texting and picture sharing a bit like Skype allows phone calls. It has been great for our family as we have a family group that we just post to when we want to let the children know we are going to be late or if we are on the way. Everyone is up to date and included. It has cut out all that repetition and middle man communication where someone has to pass on the message. Your group stays constructed until you no longer want it. We even have conversations over it in ways we haven’t done in years, because everyone is too busy. While I would prefer face-to-face, this isn’t always possible. This is an excellent app for keeping lines of conversation open with children.
- Prezi.A new way to do presentations. While Powerpoint lets you tell a linear story, Prezi lets you be more rhizomatic and conceptual in approach. Problem is, you have to know which you are doing before you get started as it is difficult to import a Prezzi presentation into Powerpoint format. Also, it is much harder for me to know how long a presentation will be in Prezi as it is easy to add lots of material and zoom your way through. 5-8 slides in Powerpoint is plenty for an hour long lecture. With Prezi I find myself well into the 20 click range. So no, I am not 100% sold, but it is good for getting big conceptual connections across. Because it allows you to zoom in and out, it is also good for producing info-graphic type visuals, though this is not the intent of the program. The font choices are limited and you can’t really construct drawings in the program but you can import them as .gif images and then place text over. Be warned. You can make your audience seasick if you zoom around too much.
- Tiny URL. This is a great web page. You copy the long URL at the top and it makes a short one for you. You can then cut and past that into web pages, tweets, facebook status updates. The links never expire. They will give you one or you can specify your own. Brilliant.
- Tweetdeck. This is a product owned by twitter, but it allows you to see more of what is going in in Twitter than the normal twitter page does. I still prefer the primary Twitter site for managing connections, but for organising and reading, Tweetdeck is the way to go. Tweetdeck operates in column format, meaning that it uses up the whole width. When combined with Twitter lists, this is a great feature. You can add your lists as separate columns, so at any one time you can see what each sub-community of people that you follow/follow you are up to. What is more, in Twitter, you can, for example add MII’s to lists without actually following them making it much easier to ignore if they are being boring. But you can still see what they are saying if you are interested. Apparently there was an app for Tweetdeck, but Twitter decided early this year to discontinue it to focus on the web based application. To my mind this is a bit of a downside.
I have a few other programs/ apps/ web links that mind-map, deal with photography, and help produce word clouds, QR codes and infographics, but I’ve not settled on any that I think are brilliant or that I use often. As my technical skill increases and as they convince me of their usefulness (or not) I’ll add them to this list, so watch this space! Also please leave a comment if you have some great piece of software/webware or an App that you particularly like.
Technology I use:
- MacBook Air “11. I chose this computer because it is light and small. This was key for me because I take my computer everywhere and I only want to carry one bag. I like it a lot. I would prefer the screen to be a bit bigger, but the fact that it fits in my handbag was, and remains, more important than size of screen. I get frustrated with the track pad sometimes, and having been a PC previously I find the lack of a delete forward option bothersome, but am getting used to only being able to delete backward.
- iPad mini. I love this little piece of technology. I had one of the original iPads and it was fine but too heavy to carry around. When it was stolen, I replaced it with a mini and am so glad I did. The mini is the size of a Kindle reader, but has more functionality and a smoother working interface than the Kindle. I tried a Kindle for a while but got frustrated. I tend to use the iPad for social networking activities, photo viewing and sometimes taking photographs (you get a bit of a different perspective with the iPad than with other devices), and for reading. I recently took it to a grant review meeting and found it invaluable. No longer do I need stacks of paper. I could refer to the (20+page) proposals in the discussion. No muss, no fuss. Brilliant. I also use the iPad beside my computer, for viewing source material, looking up things on the web, and for looking at notes. Only thing I don’t generally do on it is write longer pieces of text, though I have paired it with a wireless keyboard for this purpose in a pinch.
- iPhone 4S. This has been a great tool, both in my personal life and for research. It is great for photos on the fly and I also have used it to take pictures for what I call photo-ethnographic research (you can read about the method in a photo-essay I wrote for a journal called Streetnotes. It will be available from their web site from late spring 2013). I can also tether my MacBook to it to access the internet for free. Because of the configuration I also can now text, something I could never really do before. Oh yea, and its a phone though I try and avoid using it that way.