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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Silence Your Android Phone Automatically; And Tell Your Students To Do the Same

Let No Cell Phonesme start by saying that I’m not one of those people who flies into a blind rage when a cell phone goes off during a meal or a meeting or even during one of my classes. It annoys me at the movies, sure. But I’m not so foolish as to think that dinner with me or one of my lectures offers anything close to the experience of getting “lost in” or “sucked into” a great movie. In a theater, the ring of a cell phone jarringly returns to you the reality of being crammed in a room with dozens of other people, and maybe even some bedbugs.

These days, however, our phones are not just mobile. They are smart. And if you have a smart phone, then there’s no reason to allow it to do dumb things like ring, buzz, or chirp when you don’t want it to. Fortunately a variety of Android apps out there allow you to quiet your phone on a set schedule.

OSilence Schedulern my phone, I use a simple little app called Silence Scheduler (shown at left). I just tell the program the days and times that I have lectures, discussion sections, and meetings. And the phone switches automatically to silent mode during those times. When the time period ends, it switches the phone back to normal mode. No effort on my part required for the rest of the quarter. You can download it for free via the Android Market. And a quick search of the market also shows a number of other free apps that will do the very same thing for you.

If you have $6.23 to burn, you can also try out an Android app called Tasker. It can silence your phone on a schedule and much, much more. Tasker allows you to set conditional automation for nearly everything your phone can do. Want your phone to be silent and send calls directly to voicemail if it detects that you are driving based on your GPS signal? Tasker can do that. Want it to activate the GPS and network data whenever you open Google Maps? Tasker can do that too.  I’ve just started working with it so I won’t give a full review. But I’m already very impressed. I’ll let the folks over at Lifehacker fill you in with their review of Tasker and their subsequent post detailing some of the creative ways they were using it.

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Use URL Shorteners to Create Custom, Trackable Links

In the last few years we’ve seen an explosion of web sites offering a simple service: shrinking long URLs down to nice manageable sizes. Demand for URL shortening has been driven largely by Twitter’s 140-character per tweet maximum. Without a URL shortener you’d have little room in a tweet to say anything about an included link. The URL for this post, for example, would take up nearly three quarters of a tweet’s real estate.

Long Tweet

Fortunately for the web user, competition in the URL shrinking business has resulted in the rapid development of new features. Various shortener services now offer integration with web browsers or social media sites, link previews, and even profit sharing based on advertising. All in all there are far too many options out there for me to attempt any reasonable summary of them. A quick Google search for “best URL shortener” will net you plenty of blogs and other sites that have attempted to shoot that particularly quickly moving target. For this post I want to highlight two features offered by many URL shorteners that grads and academics might find particularly useful, whether you’re using Twitter or not.

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Choose the Best Resolution for Images in Powerpoint

Insert PictureFor 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.

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Use AutoHotkey, Microsoft Word, and doPDF to Grade Papers Electronically

Attendee lists by quinn.anyaA 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