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.
First off, I want to welcome everyone back to DIY Ivory Tower. You might have noticed that the blog went on a brief hiatus during the late fall. My dissertation and the job market kept me quite busy during the past few months. Now that I’ve got another chapter drafted and a large pile of letters off to search committees, I have time once again to devote to DiYiT. Now on to the post…
Returning home from the annual American Historical Association conference a few weeks ago, I found that one of my most important post-conference chores was the addition of dozens of scholars, editors, archivists, and librarians to my Twitter feed. During the conference I used Twitter extensively and for a variety of different purposes. And I wasn’t alone. All tolled, Twitter users sent over 4,200 messages about the AHA meeting to the public micro-blogging service during the conference. And since then another 500 or so tweets have rolled in as conversations begun during the conference have continued on Twitter. Given the value of all that tweeting, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a post describing the basic uses of Twitter by academics.
If you are completely unfamiliar with Twitter, I suggest that you check out this PDF describing the basics of Twitter put together by the Public Policy Group of the London School of Economics and Political Science. If you are familiar enough with the service to understand terminology like “tweeting” and “following,” then we can get right down to business.
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.
Right 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 →
Despite 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 →
We’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 →
For many of us Powerpoint and other types of presentation software have become vital to accomplishing our professional goals. Because of its ubiquity, there are piles of advice sites out there which discuss the proper ways to utilize this powerful tool. Rather than walking you through a list of tips about font size, wordiness, background color, and pointless animations, I wanted to focus this post very narrowly on the subject of using images in Powerpoint slides. Users of other presentation programs like Open Office’s Impress or Mac’s Keynote should note that all of the advice included in this post applies to those programs as well.
For the most part adding images to your presentation is desperately easy. If you’ve done any work at all with these programs, you almost certainly know that you can add an image using the “insert” feature. Once the image has been placed on your slide, you can drag it to any location or alter its size by clicking on it and dragging the sizing handles which appear at its edges.
What even the seasoned presentation maker might not know is why some of your images look fine on your computer screen but look terrible when displayed on the projector. I recently attended a job talk where the candidate repeatedly apologized to the assembled crowd because their view of his images wasn’t nearly as crisp as what he was seeing. Of course, this isn’t seen as a cardinal sin of making presentations. It’s merely viewed as an unfortunate limitation of our technology. I’ve made that very same apology to students when showing images as a lecturer or in discussion sections. That said. You can avoid this presentation pitfall in the first place.
A few weeks back I detailed the many benefits of using Autohotkey (AHK) to create custom hotkeys and automate keystrokes. As a follow-up, I wanted to spell out the method I use for marking up student papers electronically using a combination of AHK, Microsoft Word, and doPDF. For those of you who dislike Microsoft products or simply don’t own a copy of Word, any full-featured word processor should do. You’ll just want to make sure that it offers you the ability to add comments to existing text. Similarly, you can use your preferred PDF creation software. There are many that do exactly what doPDF does.
Unlike many aspects of life, grading papers is faster with a pencil than with a computer. It seems as if the added time required to grade papers electronically represents a significant obstacle to the adoption of a largely paperless classroom. When grading a paper, you need to be able to read and mark quickly, often leaving just a single word, phrase, or editor’s mark above a word or sentence. I find, often enough, that a simple question mark best illustrates my profound confusion with what’s being said in a paper. These marks are quick and easy to make with a pencil. Unfortunately, inserting comments and typing such notes into a word processor isn’t nearly as convenient. The number of keystrokes and mouse clicks required slows the process and keeps you computing when you need to be grading. Continue reading →