Jane Hart's 10 Tools Challenge
Here's what happened this month
1. Experimentation with a new tool
I realize that this 10 tools challenge is meant to focus on trying new tools but I'm getting distracted already and I'm finding it difficult to focus on any particular tool when I don't have any immediate use for it and so many other things are happening. Here's what I propose: Beyond writing a monthly post about my experience, I will use Movie Maker to document key lessons about tools I encounter and my last post, the overall review, will be done using Movie Maker (or by then perhaps some other video tool).
2. Opportunities that popped up
a. I've signed up for a MOOC (massive Online Open Course) through Coursera. More insights at a later date.
b. I came across an opportunity to try Google Hangout. More about it in a future post
c. Zinio - eReader for magazines through local library. I came across an announcement from my local library about a new service offering free access to hundreds of magazines. I had to try that out. Not exactly a straightforward process since it requires creating multiple accounts (one with the library and one with Zinio) and it's clearly a marketing strategy to get people to eventually subscribe. I am working with an old laptop and a small screen, which may contribute to my difficulties, but the verdict for me is that I'd rather take a healthy walk to the local library, pick up the magazine from the shelf, sit and browse the magazine than struggle with the pages and font size on the screen.
d. OverDrive - OverDrive is another free tool facilitating access to digital media available through the local library. It takes a significant amount of persistence to get this working and I'd much rather wait for the audio CD version of a book to be available for borrowing so that I can listen during my commute than sit at my computer to listen to a book. Listening is too slow and engages the brain in a different way than reading. In reading, the process of pausing to reflect on a connection or taking a quick note is seamless. In addition, a book, as a physical object on my dining room table is an easy reminder that I started reading something. The audiofiles on OverDrive are easily forgotten. I started listening to a book this week and then completely forgot about it because it was "invisible". I also don't need to physically return these files, so there's no need for me to remember to finish the book before it's due back. Ironically, these audio files aren't always available and they have a due date, so the advantages over the audiobook or hard copy book are few.
4. Refreshing Old tools
a. Excel - I learned something totally new this month, using the Page Layout view to increase efficiency of my weekly reporting at work. I streamlined my reporting by eliminating the need to transfer data from one tool (Excel) to another (PowerPoint). I used to create a PowerPoint importing linked Excel data. Since it was "linked" data, an update in Excel would update automatically in the PowerPoint. Checking and fixing the formatting every week was still a chore. Now I use Excel as my presenting tool, making it look essentially like a PowerPoint, only more powerful in terms of data manipulation on the spot. The irony is that several months ago I was seriously annoyed by a co-worker who only worked in Page Layout view and I couldn't figure out what she was doing or how to work in that view. At the time, it made no sense to me and I saw no need to use that function. Then at some point the option became relevant and it probably took less than 20 minutes to fully leverage it to address my need. This reinforces my point: until I have a specific need, I'm not that interested in new tools, yet unless I know what's available out there I'll never consider these opportunities.
b. TiddlyWiki: When your favorite tool stops working
TiddlyWiki is one of my favorite tools. It's a personal wiki, a very portable digital notetaking and organizing tool. I have now used it for years for many different purposes, including organizing a huge amount of research notes for a novel. This past week, it started to misbehave. It would not save. My troubleshooting habits are dangerous. I often start messing with things in the absence of any understanding of what I am doing. There is a 50% chance I will make it worse. I could have ended up doing a lot of damage, but in the end, I connected the dots. I remembered that Firefox had just automatically updated to a new version and it turned out that this new version was incompatible with TiddlyWiki. Thankfully, the TiddlyWiki site had the explanation and a download fix. Back on track.
c. The book and the brain
I've borrowed my daughter's Digital Media Studies syllabus and I'm keeping up with the assigned readings. As a result, I re-read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and made a point of trying to focus and engage in deep reading. My college experience was 99% deep reading and very little else, so any time I pick up a non-fiction book I can't help but be transported back to my college days when English was still a relatively foreign language to me and reading involved taking lots of notes, in cursive longhand. And so, I still take copious notes. The brain is by far the most useful tool I've ever used. Pen and paper are wonderful assistants.