Leveraging Twitter

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…

Twitter LogosReturning 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.

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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

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

Try TinEye for Tracking down Image Copyright Info

TinEyeLast week I wrote a post about using Creative Commons Search for finding images and other media free from copyright restrictions. Today over at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog, the reverse process is discussed. Their post, Image Citation and Reverse Search with TinEye, explains how you can use the TinEye reverse image search to track down the copyright info of an image. From the review it sounds like the TinEye database isn’t yet robust enough to find any image you throw at it, but it seems like a good place to start if you are wondering about the provenance of a particular image.

Head over to ProfHacker, a favorite site of ours here at DiYiT, to learn more about this tool.

OCR in Google Docs makes transcription simple

While running an online seminar in professional development the other night, I had a request for the text of the Nebraska folk song with which historian Louis Warren concluded his presentation, “Settling with Debt: Western Development in the Railroad Era.” All Louis had with him was a hard copy of the song’s lyrics, which were printed at the bottom of his last page of notes. He was happy to share the text, but he understandably did not want to let go of his notes. So, I snapped a photo with with my phone, focusing on the bottom portion of the page.

This morning, I opened the original image in Picasa for some simple tweaks. First, I cropped out all irrelevant, surrounding text, and then brightened the image and heightened the contrast. The result is a more white background and darker, clearer text.

Next, I uploaded the image to Google Docs. I had read that Google Docs now supports OCR (optical character recognition), and this was my first opportunity to test it. When you upload an image and want Google to attempt OCR, be sure to check the box to convert text in images and PDFs to documents (see below).

Google Docs OCR

The result, as you can see in the image below, is an image in the top portion of the page and editable text in the bottom portion.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

Toward the bottom of my photograph, the image bends a little. I’m not sure if this is an effect of the wide-angle lens on my phone or perhaps I did not lay the sheet of paper down flat on a table. Nonetheless, the angled lines of the image cause the OCR process not to accurately recognize the points at which one line ends and another begins.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

I went back to the image in Picasa, straightened it, then uploaded it once again to Google Docs. The straightened image produced better results.

To finish it up, all I needed to do was clean up some odd spacing in the text (see image below).

While this folk song presents a simple set of text, an amount that surely would not have been a burden to retype, this sample demonstrated to me the value of an accurate OCR process. I’m happy to have this tool in my belt when I need to take on a larger, longer transcription project.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

Hurrah for Lane County, the land of the free,
The home of the grasshopper, bedbug and flea,
I’ll holler its praises, and sing of its fame,
While starving to death on a government claim.

My clothes are all ragged, my language is rough,
My bread is case-hardened, both solid and tough,
The dough is scattered all over the room,
And the floor would get scared at the sight of a broom

How happy I am on my government claim,
I’ve nothing to lose, I’ve nothing to gain
I’ve nothing to eat and I’ve nothing to wear,
And nothing from nothing is honest and fair.

– traditional folk song, Nebraska

This post originally appeared at nicomachus.net.