Use an Unfamiliar Font for Better Editing

Mmmmm FontsNot to long ago I read a post over at Lifehacker suggesting that changing the font of a document improves your ability to edit it. The logic being that a new font will give you a fresh look at the document. Having just wrapped up a 60-page dissertation chapter, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Typically when I’ve finished a piece of writing I do an onscreen edit and then a printed edit. Finally, after taking a day or so away from the document if possible, I do another printed edit. Usually there are many more steps in that process, but that is the very simplified version. With the chapter I just finished I changed the font for that final printed edit from Times New Roman to Comic Sans MS because it was different enough from the original without being hard to read.

And I have to say that the change in font seemed to help. Obviously I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have caught the errors that I did using the original font. But it certainly seemed like some types of problems stood out more clearly because I wasn’t simply running my eyes over text they had seen many times over.

The technique seemed most helpful for the types of errors that hide in plain sight. I caught misplaced or missing apostrophes, words that were supposed to be deleted at some point but managed to hang around, and words left in the wrong order after some earlier edit changed the flow of the sentence.

Most of all, I think the font change highlighted problems with the little ubiquitous words that our brains take for granted. The third sentence of my very first paragraph began with the phrase, “According to President Jefferson’s specific instructions….” In none of my previous edits had I noticed that the sentence actually read, “According President Jefferson’s specific instructions….”  In all previous readings, some of which were done out-loud, my mind simply assumed that a “to” was where it needed to be.

In the end, I’m thankful that I caught the mistakes and I’m happy to recommend this little piece of advice. Happy editing!

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Do you use an ereader?

In the commercial world of book sales, ereaders have surged into the spotlight over the last few years. Book retailers Amazon and Barnes and Noble each release new models of their dedicated ebook readers with the same frequency as other popular electronic gadgets. Since Apple first release its popular iPad, the world of tablet of computing is also making inroads into the ebook world.

The perception, however, is that ebook readers are popular mostly among casual, pop-lit readers. If you have an ebook reader (e.g. Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, Apple iPad), please complete this simple survey about how you use ebook readers in an academic setting.

http://bit.ly/mPnZbn

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

Video Clips in the Classroom: Just “Do a Little Research” to Tame Your Fear of Copyright Infringement

For this post I decided to give my “Tech and Feeling” series a rest and discuss copyright issues about using video clips in class lectures, such as for a slide presentation. I am taking this detour because when I discuss using video clips from professionally produced DVDs with instructors and grad students, immediately their fear of copyright infringement comes up. And their fear is almost always their reason for not learning how to manipulate videos for the classroom. I completely understand that fear, because the legal language and the fuzziness of the laws can be daunting. Add to that the massive amounts of resources, especially on the Web, and the threat of prosecution for breaking laws you do not quite understand in the first place, and that fear can become paralyzing. However, with a little effort, getting the right information about copyright for educational purposes is a breeze.

Now, since I am in no way a legal expert, in this post I am not going to give any specific advice except the very basic “do a little research,” which applies to almost any pedagogical tools we want to use. To help ease the common and understandable fear many of you may feel about this, here I am taking some of the “search” out of research by giving you some links to other sites that provide solid, useful guidelines that will make you feel comfortably safe with your “fair use decisions.”

I believe a little humor break is in order now to help you decompress a bit before diving in, so here is a nifty video mash-up I found in The Stanford School of Law’s Center for the Internet and Society Web site. The short description in the site reads: Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms. Please make certain to read the FBI Warning at the very beginning, after the title sequence. It is enlightening, elegantly witty.
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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

How Do You Feel About Technology: External Influences

When I initially thought about this next section, I knew I wanted to write about the personal aspects of feelings about technology. As it turned out, as with a lot of writing, once I started to type the words, those same words I was certain I controlled took over and shaped the essay, taking my thoughts and making more sense of them than I ever could. The result is an exploration of the external influences that fuel our individual fear of technology. Those external influences also fuel broader, mainstream perceptions and expectations about technology. All those influences shape, often furtively, how we feel about and deal with technology in our professional personas.

On two recent channel surfing occasions, I noticed something very odd. Well, odd to me. The first time I was watching the commercials to see what was coming next. One of the ads was about a local news show, how it is so cutting edge yet highly focused on the local issues important TO YOU. Among the many jittery shots (does anyone just hold a video camera still anymore?), there was a fleeting, if fidgety glimpse of the station’s two late night anchors, seriously discussing some highly relevant topic, while one of them was holding and pointing to one of the new tablets (now, y’all know I ain’t talking about aspirin). Now, I, the viewer, could not see if the contraption was on, but that was not the point. That anchor was cutting edge, holding a powerful talisman, a cornucopian information source. I was immediately convinced that what the commercial was saying was indeed true. The other time I stopped to rest my eyes on two hosts of one of the many entertainment news shows. Both were sitting with, need I say it, a new tablet in front them, one for each. The tablets were closed, that is, the covers were hiding the displays. Still, there was immediately no doubt in my mind that, because they had such powerful technology at their disposal, those two individuals were capable of nothing but the truth, which I was suddenly convinced they revealed objectively and in detailed depth.

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Ephemera + Instapaper + E-reader = your own periodical

Scott McLemee, the Intellectual Affairs blogger at Inside Higher Ed, recently shared with readers his method for saving articles he finds online to his e-reader. The idea, as he explains, is to take advantage of your e-reader’s strengths (text display, large storage capacity, and portability) and start hand-crafting your own library. Think beyond the Kindle store or Sony store and explore the world of free books (books in the public domain) through Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive and other repositories of texts made available for free. And once you get the hang of it (and you’ve finished reading the 33,000 books in PG’s archive), then think creatively about those long articles you find online.

I don’t know about you, but if an article is more than 1000 words, I won’t read it online. At least, I won’t read it on a backlit screen. For years, this has meant that I print out longer articles. In his blog post, McLemee shares how he saves those articles to his e-reader. Continue reading