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 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

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

Take Easy Screenshots in Windows

With the last round of operating system updates from Microsoft, taking screenshots in Windows became much, much easier. Many of you out there might be familiar with the “Print Screen” method that is basically as old as Windows itself. In that method, a simple press of the Print Screen button copies an image of the screen to your clipboard. If you haven’t used that method, then chances are you’ve never actually pushed that “Print Screen/System Req” button key at the top of your keyboard, not on purpose anyway. However, pressing the Print Screen button has two major drawbacks. First, it copies the entire screen (or the active window if you hold Ctrl). If you want only a certain piece of the screen, you need to edit the file with an image editing program. And second, you can’t simply save the image file to your computer. You need image editing software to accomplish that as well. In this post, I’ll describe the new and easier ways to create images from the content on your screen.

If you have Windows 7 (something I highly recommend you get so long as your PC meets the minimum hardware requirements) or Windows Vista, the ability to take custom screen captures has been built into the operating system. All you need to do is find the program. In both operating systems the program is called the Snipping Tool. You can find it in the Accessories folder of the Start Menu. I use the feature fairly often so I’ve pinned a shortcut to the program on my taskbar. To do this simply right click on the program and select “Pin to Task Bar” or simply click on it and drag it to the taskbar. Continue reading

Save Your Eyes and Maybe Even Sleep Better with f.lux

f.lux is a simple program that alters the color temperature your computer’s monitor according to the time of day. During the day, your screen keeps the typical bright white look that you are used to. Once the sun sets, however, f.lux lowers the color temperature so that warmer reddish tones replace some of the bright whites and blues. The application’s developers suggest that this change may help you sleep by toning down the color temperatures you are exposed to before bed. Upon setup you simply let f.lux know your zip code so that it knows when the sun rises and sets in your area. You also let it know the type of lights you use in your room at night so that it can match the ambient color temperature of the room. I have it set so that the color change happens gradually over the course of an hour and I hardly ever notice it happening. If you prefer an abrupt change, you can set the software to make an instant switch.

f.lux settings

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Use Foxit Reader to Annotate PDFs

PDF IconAdobe’s PDF file format has become fairly ubiquitous. Most of the scholarly journals and databases provide download access in PDF format. And when they are available in full text, books from Google Books can also be downloaded as PDFs. All this means that there’s quite a bit of reading to be done in PDF format. Unfortunately Adobe has priced Acrobat, the full suite of editing and creating tools for PDF files, well beyond the reach of the average graduate student. Of course, Adobe has always made Acrobat Reader available to the public as a free download. And in recent years a bevy of third party programs have made it possible to view and even create your own PDF files with very little fuss. The newest versions of Microsoft Office even allow users to save files directly to PDF format.

Foxit Reader's Comments Menu

While reading PDFs and saving PDF files has never really been easier, very few of these programs allow the user to make markups or annotations to PDF files for which you are not the original author. Adobe recently added the ability to add sticky notes and highlights to PDF files using Reader. Fortunately one of the free third-party PDF readers out there has even more features. With Foxit Reader you can add notes, draw lines boxes and other shapes, type text onto the file, and add your own bookmarks.

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