Create Zotero Hotkeys in Word for Faster Citation

About a month ago the fine folks at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media released an update to Zotero, their fabulous research management and citation software. The update broke Zotero free from the confines of the Firefox web browser and gave it the ability to stand as it own application. That change was big news for folks who prefer Chrome, Internet Explorer, or one of the many other browsers out there to Firefox. I’m actually a Firefox user so I wondered if the release would have much to offer for me beyond saving the step of opening Zotero in a separate browser window to make it seem like its own program. Did it ever!

The new standalone version rolled out a number of tweaks and upgrades to the previous iteration of the software, including a very useful duplicate detection and management system. But, for me, the most significant improvement over the old system came in the form of a wonderful new interface for adding citations to Microsoft Word and OpenOffice. In the new system, activating the “Insert Citation” action for the Zotero add-in brings up an elegantly simple search bar. To add an item you simply begin typing the author’s name or part of the title. As you type the system brings up a menu of options meeting the search criteria. It even moves items that you’ve previously cited in this file up to the top of the list for faster access. Once you see the source you’re looking for you can click on it or use the arrow keys to select it.

Adding additional information to the item such as page numbers or prefix or suffix text is as easy as pressing Ctrl and the down arrow. That command brings up a separate menu for the item where you can add those details. Overall it is a snap to use and makes it much easier to add citations to your text. And with a few tweaks to your word processor’s hotkey settings, you can improve your workflow even more. 

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Group Tabs in Firefox for Greater Web Productivity

Mozilla’s Firefox web browser now includes a feature that some of you out there might find useful. First, though, I think it makes sense to say a few words about browser choice more broadly.

Web Browser Statistics from Wikimedia contributor Daniel.CardenasRight now the ongoing “browser wars” are dominated by three options, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla’s Firefox, and Google’s Chrome. In the last few years Chrome has been steadily eating away at IE’s market dominance while Firefox remained fairly stable at around 30 percent of the market. There are other options out there, most of which have small but very devoted user bases. But for our purposes I’ll just address the big three.

So as you probably guessed from the title of this post, I’m a Firefox user. For now I’m locked into that choice because I use Zotero, a Firefox add-on, to organize my research. Currently the fine folks at the Rozenwig Center for History and New Media are hard at work on a standalone version of Zotero that will allow it to work with other browsers. But since I’m not willing to trust my dissertation research to the currently available Beta version of that system, I’ll happily keep using Firefox for my web needs. And, frankly, when a standalone version of Zotero is ready for prime time, I suspect that I’ll remain a Firefox user. Here’s three reasons why: Continue reading

Use Dropbox to Turn Microsoft’s Autorecover Feature into an Autosave Feature to Avoid Losing Work

old computer lab by flickr user Wesley FryerWay back in the 90s when I was an undergraduate, I worked as a lab assistant in a campus computer lab. Primarily my work there consisted of scanning lab users’ 3.5-inch floppy disks for viruses, assisting with file conversions between Mac and PC file types, showing users how to map their computer to the campus servers to retrieve their fancy new electronic mail, and a whole host of other, now entirely obsolete, tasks.

Unfortunately for all of us, one unpleasant duty of the lab assistant remains a part of all our lives today, dealing with lost work. Short of having to tell local vagrants that if they weren’t students they could not sleep in the 24-hour computer lab, consoling those who’d lost work due to viruses, file corruptions, computer shutdowns, or save errors was definitely the most difficult part of that job.

And somehow, despite all our technological advances over the last decade-and-a-half, we are still losing work. A colleague told me just the other day that he’d lost six hours of work in Powerpoint. His tale of woe prompted me to look into the advice I might give here at DiYiT beyond the old computer lab assistant standby of “save early and save often.”

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Use Your Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera as Document Scanner

Rosie by ((carola)) on flickrDespite the promises made by children’s cartoons and most works of science fiction we continue to endure life without personal jetpacks, flying cars, robotic housemaids named Rosie, and an exhaustive and fully digitized record of human knowledge. And while there’s not much advice I can offer to get you any closer to those first three goals, I’m pretty certain that you’ve got the tools at your disposal to digitize any document or publication you can get your hands on.

You might assume that the proper tool for this kind of work would be a flatbed scanner. For a while that was definitely true. These days, however, your digital camera can almost certainly handle the job. Yes, even that point-and-shoot camera that you bought years ago to take on vacations and photograph your cat for her very own blog. I use my camera all the time to photograph manuscript material at archives and sections of books or articles that I can’t or don’t want to lug home from libraries. Continue reading

Use Dropbox to Sync and Store Your Zotero Database

DropboxWe’ve mentioned Dropbox here at DiYiT before. In fact, back in our very first post Philip declared it to be “an academic’s best friend.” If you missed that post and aren’t familiar with Dropbox, you should definitely check it out. In a nutshell, Dropbox allows you to sync folders between two or more computers. You can also access the files in your Dropbox folders via the web at dropbox.com. The service effectively eliminates version control issues while also providing a convenient offsite backup for your files. For this post I want to describe how Dropbox has improved my research workflow by housing my Zotero database.

If you aren’t familiar with Zotero, unfortunately we don’t have a previous post to help you. At some point soon, I plan to write up a full review describing the many benefits of this free, open-source research organization and citation system produced by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. For now, you’ll need to check out their page to learn about this wildly useful add-on for Firefox. And although it has a certain cart-before-the-horse feel to it, I’m going to forge ahead with this current post about how Dropbox can improve upon the typical Zotero user experience. Those of you who use Zotero might benefit from it. And those of you who don’t will undoubtedly be switching over now that you’ve heard of it. So there’s really no downside here. Continue reading

Mac users, try Skitch for annotating images

Sometimes you want to show someone else what you’re looking at online. You can email her a link, post it on Facebook, or share it on Twitter. But sometimes, you need to show someone exactly what you’re seeing. Why? It might be because you see an error that someone else doesn’t see. Or, you might want to call attention to just part of a website, a program on your computer, or something else on your screen.

This is a classic case where you want to take a screenshot. Screenshots allow you to show someone else what you’re seeing. A few weeks ago, Adam showed Windows users how to take simple screenshots. Today, I want to show Mac users how to take screenshots and then annotate them.

OS X has a built-in screenshot program called Grab. It can handle both snapping a photo of your entire screen as well as what ever is within any given window. But I found Grab’s TIF default file format annoying, since if I want to upload my screenshot to Flickr, I’ve saved my screenshot in the largest file size possible. And if I then want to annotate my screenshot, I have to open the TIF in Photoshop or Fireworks.

Skitch is a free app that allows you to take screenshots, annotate them, and share them via the web all within the workings of one program. Continue reading

Save Time by Saving Keystrokes with AutoHotkey

Autohotkey LogoAutohotkey (AHK) is very powerful software. And it is exactly the type of tool that we want to highlight here at DIY Ivory Tower. At the most basic level, AHK allows you to create your own keyboard shortcuts in Windows. [Mac users should check out this post from Profhacker describing Mac software called TextExpander. It also mentions a few other Mac and Windows text expanders that can accomplish at least some of what AHK can do.] I started using AHK for very simple tasks like having my computer type my phone number when I press a certain combination of keys. I’ve got other hotkeys set for my name, a complex part (but not all) of my email password, my address, and my email address. These shortcuts come in very handy when filling out forms online or sending simple emails. Once you start using the software and reading through its user guide, however, you’ll quickly see that it is capable of very much more. Continue reading