What a Novel Idea

Graphic Novels as Study Guides

Something was amiss in the 370s. Tucked among the SAT/ACT study guides were three graphic novels. They seemed so out of place – colorful, appealing, and reasonably-sized novels set amongst the encyclopedia-esque monstrosities that are most test prep guides. Were they misshelved or perhaps mislabeled? Alas, no, they were indeed SAT vocabulary-building books.

Warcraft Study Guide

Graphic Novels:
The New Test Prep

Kaplan has partnered with Manga publisher TOKYPOP to create a new kind of study guides: graphic novels filled with SAT vocabulary words, along with their definitions, pronunciation, and example sentences. The publishers modified existing graphic novels Warcraft: Dragon Hunt, Volume 1, Psy-Comm, Volume 1, and Van Von Hunter, Volume 1, enhancing their vocabulary and adding reference information for each vocab word to the margins.

The absurdity of preparing for standardized test aside, I think that graphic novels as study tools is a great idea. Besides being a proponent of graphic novels in general (anything that develops the desire to read is a good thing), as a visual learner myself, I know the importance of using imagery in education. I swear I only managed to pass history courses with the information I could recall from political cartoons, documentaries, and other visual sources; text-dense readings rarely held my attention beyond a few paragraphs, and even then, it was always easier for me to recall an image than a word.

The combination of visual stimuli and storytelling (a very useful recall device itself) makes graphic novels an effective tool for learning. I would love to see this concept of graphic study guides expanded to more general subject matters – I might even learn a thing or two!


Drinking the Purple Kool-Aid, aka I ♥ Twitter (Thing 31)

To keep this post a decent length, I’m going with lists…my other option was Haikus, so be thankful.

Twitter is:

  • A search engine for hand-picked online resources
  • A way to network with people in my field.
  • A place to connect with others who share my interests.
  • A way to follow current events and breaking news.
  • A forum for my musings, ramblings, and tirades.
  • Fun.

How I Tweet:

    My Twitter

    My Twitter Timeline

  • Usually I tweet via my Firefox address bar using the InstantTweets add-on; if I am sharing a link, I shorten it first using ReplacURLr, my very own FF add-on.
  • When I want to update Twitter & FB simultaneously, I update via Ubiquity using the Pingfm command. I can do this from any webpage.
  • I often read tweets online, so most of my replies and DMs are made via the web interface.
  • When I want to publish at specific time, especially when I may not be at my computer, I tweet via FutureTweets, which allows me to schedule tweets.
  • I also occasionally tweet from my Twitter Desktop App of Choice, TweetDeck.

How I Follow:

  • I’ve started using the web interface more than TweetDeck, since I love how the Firefox add-on PowerTwitter embeds tweeted pics & videos right in the feed, as well as expands shortened links and replaces them with the title of the linked page.
  • I go to TwitterFall when following an event or popular trend; the live feed makes it possible to follow a hashtag or search in realtime.
  • For desktop apps, TweetDeck is definitely the front runner, though I’m following the development of Seesmic Desktop, mostly for it’s multiple account support.

Who I follow:


Who I Follow

  • Web developers
  • Programmers
  • Librarians
  • Teachers
  • Photographers
  • Designers
  • Friends & Family
  • All-around Geeks
  • People who follow me…usually


  • I use the Greasemonkey script Twitter results in Google searches to search Twitter from Google.
  • I use Xpenser to track business purchases I make online by DMing @xpn the purchase amount and description; it is much easier than logging into Xpenser website. I can even DM without leaving the seller’s website, by using Ubiquity.
  • I add information to my Evernote account by tweeting @myEN.
  • I use TwitterKarma to declutter my timeline, by finding out who follows for the refollow, only to quickly unfollow – seriously, stop wasting my time.



    Watch the World Tweet

  • SecretTweet allows people to make anonymous tweets, creating a public confessional of sorts – how could that not be fun?
  • TwitterVision is a real-time geographic visualization of tweets, displaying recent tweets above the location of the tweet. The globe view even shows whether it is day or night at the location. It is people watching on an international scale.

Follow me (@CCahillMN) on Twitter!


Save All Open Word Documents

Need to quickly close out of Microsoft Word, but multiple open documents are slowing you down? Holding down 'Shift' as you open the file menu changes the "Save" option to "Save All", enabling you to save all of your documents at once.

Shift + File > Save All Saves all open documents


Two Clicks are Better Than One...Sometimes

Multiple Clicks to Select Text

Selecting Text with Multiple Clicks

Working in a middle school, I am usually scolding hyper-active students (and their oft as impatient teachers) to stop clicking, or at least to click once and wait for a result before clicking again. But, multiple clicks do have their place in productive computering; besides the obvious double-click used to open folders & files, clicking multiple times in a row can be used to quickly select text. Clicking twice selects the word on which you clicked, and clicking three times selects the element on which you clicked, e.g. an entire paragraph. I use the triple click most often when I want to enter a new URL into my browser - clicking three times inside the address bar highlights the current URL, which I can then replace with a different one.


Feed Me (Thing 30)

RSS Reader: My Custom Newspaper

Aside from email, my RSS reader and online bookmarks are the most useful tools for retrieving, organizing, and sharing information. The mornings that I am fortunate enough to not have any technical issues requiring my immediate attention, I scroll through my reader while enjoying my first cup of coffee – it has become my morning (and afternoon and evening) newspaper, complete with comics. Almost everything on the Internet can be subscribed to via RSS; my subscriptions include not only blogs, but also photo streams, word-of-the-day feeds, and even Facebook status updates.

Google Reader

RSS Reader

While I cherish each of my 100-some subscriptions (when I cease to do so, I unsubscribe), I would like to cut out some of the irrelevant material that comes through, e.g. posts that purely list a website’s sponsors. I looked into filtering my feeds via websites such as FeedRinse and FilterMyRSS, but since each feed needs to be filtered individually, I quickly decided that it was much easier to just skip an item in my reader, than it would be to filter each feed and then subscribe to the filtered feed and unsubscribe from the old, unfiltered feed. However, these tools could be useful for teachers & media specialists needing to filter feeds for student consumption, hopefully avoiding the Beetle Sex incident.

Spreed, a website that enables you to speed-read an article a few words at a time, was an RSS tool I found to be interesting. I prefer to scan the items in my reader, before deciding whether to read the full article, so Spreed is not something I will be using with most feeds; however, I think it could be useful for reading longer material, such as an e-book. By combining Spreed with DailyLit, a website that provides books via RSS feeds, I may actually read War & Peace someday.

Delicious: Bookmarking Training Wheels


Bookmarking on Diigo

I love social-bookmarking, but everything Delicious can do, Diigo can do better.

  • Example 1: Sharing - Rather than sharing bookmarks with individual users in my network, Diigo enables me to share bookmarks with groups of contacts, regardless of whether they use Diigo or not. One way I use this feature to send bookmarks to teachers by subject matter, e.g. I can send all the science teachers a link at once, without having to enter all their emails.
  • Example 2: Organizing – Like Delicious, Diigo allows users to sort bookmarks by tags or groups of tags, but Diigo also allows users to create lists of links, which can then be shared online…or even printed,for those who still kill trees. I like to create lists of select resources on a topic, i.e. rather than sending a someone all bookmarks I have pertaining to their question, I make a list of my favorites to share.
  • Example 3: Publishing – Diigo makes it possible to send links directly to your blog or social-networking services such as Twitter. Beyond dynamic linkrolls, Diigo users can also embed static lists of links on services such as Netvibes.
  • Example 4: Discussion – This is where Diigo truly trumps Delicious, as there really is no way to discuss websites on Delicious. Sure, you can add a short note to a bookmark, but no one can respond to the note. The hallmark feature of Diigo is its ability to highlight text on page and add annotations. Depending on the privacy levels of one’s notes (personal, shared with a group, or public), other users can view and respond to these comments.
  • Bonus for Educators - Diigo allows teachers to create classroom groups with accounts for each students. Students can then easily share & discuss webpages with each other and their teacher.

If you like Delicious, you will love Diigo – you just have to give it a chance. Check out my bookmarks on Diigo via my linkroll in the sidebar. I am also still feeding my bookmarks to Delicious, if you would prefer to scope out my bookmarks on that site.


Spreadsheet Autofill

If you ever have to enter long series of numbers into a spreadsheet, don't waste your time typing all of the values. Instead, enter in the first few values and then let your spreadsheet application input the rest. Here's how:
  1. Enter in the first few values in your series (e.g. 1, 2, 3)
  2. Select all the values
  3. Click & Drag the lower-right corner across as many cells as you need to fill.
This technique works in most spreadsheet applications, including: Microsoft Office Excel, OpenOffice, Google Docs, and Zoho Sheet.


Converting Your Desktop into a Digital Bulletin Board

One of my favorite productivity apps is Stixy, an online, personal bulletin board service. With a free Stixy account, you can create an unlimited amount of digital bulletin boards with sticky notes, to-do reminders, pictures, and even documents. Notes can be customized with different colors & fonts, and Todos can be set to send email reminders.

I love using Stixy as a visual way to organize my thoughts, but I hate having to open an internet browser every time I want to add something. To remedy this, I’ve set Stixy to be my desktop background, using the Windows features that enables users to embed webpages on the desktop. The webpage is fully interactive, and is even available offline, in case I want to make changes when I don’t have an internet connection. I do occasionally miss the visual stimulus of my ever-changing background, but since I can add pictures to my Stixy boards, not all is lost.

Want a digital bulletin board of your own? Here’s how to set it up:

Adding Stixy to your Desktop

  1. Login to Stixy
    • If you don’t already have a Stixy account, go to Stixy.com to signup.
    • If you have an account, go to Stixy and login.
  2. Go to your desktop, right-click on an empty space, and select ‘Properties’
  3. Go to the Desktop tab and click ‘Customize Desktop’
  4. Go to the Web tab and click ‘New…’
  5. Enter http://stixy.com into the Location box and click ‘Next’
  6. Windows will connect to Stixy and then ask you to confirm adding it to your desktop; to add a synchronization schedule (to update any changes you make while offline) click customize, otherwise, click ‘Okay’.
  7. Click ‘Okay’ on both the Desktop Items and Display Properties windows.

Configuring you Bulletin Board

Configuring Your Bulletin Board

Configuring Your Bulletin Board

To take full advantage of Stixy, it is best to make it as large as possible; there are two ways of doing this:

  1. Split – Have your bulletin board take up as much space as it can, without covering your desktop icons.
    1. Hover your mouse over the left-hand corner of the window and click on the black triangle that appears
    2. From the dropdown menu, select ‘Split Desktop with Icons’
  1. Maximize – Cover your Desktop with the bulletin board.
    1. Hover your mouse over the left-hand corner of the window and click on the black triangle that appears
    2. From the dropdown menu, select ‘Cover Desktop’

Desktop Bulletin Board

My Desktop Bulletin Board

In this mode, you can continue to have icons or other desktop objects float on top of your bulletin board.

Or, you can hide your desktop icons altogether (right-click on desktop > Arrange Icons By > Hide Desktop Icons), leaving just your bulletin board.

If bulletin boards are not your thing, this technique will work with almost any other webpage you could want to make your desktop background.


Schools are Missing Out

This morning I received a newsletter with an article regarding US Government Agencies using social media websites, e.g. YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, and blip.tv, to publish information. While it is interesting in itself that the Government is using such services, what interested me most was WHY they are using these services,
"We need to get official information out to sites where people are already visiting and encourage them to interact with their government," said GSA Acting Administrator Paul Prouty. “The new agreements make it easier for the government to provide official information to citizens via their method of choice.”
(GSA signs agreements with Web 2.0 providers, Federal Computer Week, 3/25/09)
The government gets it: to be heard, you need to go to where your users already are and communicate they way they are communicating. Make it easy to get information and the information will be used.

So why don't our public schools get this? If schools want to truly reach students and give them an education that will be useful in the modern world, they should use the technology the students are using, but teach them to use it effectively and properly; schools need to stop restricting technology and information base solely on format, and focus on content.

Does this mean schools should have a Facebook page? Maybe. In the least, why not allow students to use social-networking websites in school, while teaching them how to use them as a communication tool (sharing documents, engaging in discussions, etc.) , as well as teaching them the how not to use these websites (cyber-bullying, posting illicit pictures, etc.). By banning technology outright, schools are limiting their own ability to effectively educated and communicate with students, and are hindering the student's abilities to become productive citizens of the 21st century.