6.24.2009

What’s on your iPhone/iPod?

The first thing I did when I received my iPod Touch was begin to fill it with apps; I had actually bought it with specific apps in mind, such as Evernote and Tweetdeck, intending to use my iPod Touch as more of a mobile internet device than as an mp3 player. I consulted several blog articles and browsed the lists of free apps to get some ideas for which apps I should download, and even asked fellow iPhone/iPod users for suggestions. Turns out, the apps one chooses to install, particularly those worthy of the front page and/or the dock, can say a lot about a person (one friend had only games installed - what good is that?). So, what does my homescreen say? It screams information geek - I like to find it, read it, organize it, and share it. I’m like a human Google server.

Here’s what I got:


iPod Apps

My Favorite iPod Apps, Thus Far

The Dock (the four static apps at the bottom)

  • Mail – My Gmail is my lifeline; without a phone, email is all I got.
  • MiGhtyDocs – I keep all of my work, business, and even some personal writing in my Google Docs; includes technology tutorials, data spreadsheets, and creative musings. MiGhtyDocs allows me to access this information, even when offline.
  • Evernote – Any information that is not in my GoogleDocs is in my Evernote account. This includes smaller or more temporary snippets of info like flight reservation numbers, directions, notes, etc.
  • Facebook – I debated whether Tweetdeck or Facebook would get the final spot on the bottom dock, but as much as I love Twitter, I prefer to access twitter on my computer since I end up browsing a lot of links.

The Homescreen

  • Safari – It would not be a mobile computer device without a browser.
  • Google – Need I explain needing one-touch access to my Google tools?
  • Calendar – Sadly, I don’t know where I am supposed to be without my calendar.
  • Contacts – I’m not sure why this one is front page.
  • Google Reader – RSS lets me stay updated with what is going on in the world.
  • Read It Later – Whenever I have extra time (Ha!) I hit up my reading list to learn more stuff.
  • TweetDeck – Admittedly, one of the main reasons I got an iPod Touch was so that I could Tweet without a computer.
  • textPlus – The only thing I miss about having a cellphone is the ability to text; textPlus makes it easy to text from my iPod without having to know a persons carrier, and displays messages in a conversation format.
  • Maps – I always get lost the first time I go somewhere (but never the second time, I have great spatial/photographic memory), and I hoping this will help.
  • YouTube – Who doesn’t like wasting time on YouTube?
  • Photos – I’m a photographer. I would be remissed if I didn’t want to have quick access to show of my work.
  • Calculator – Makes comparison shopping and tipping easier.
  • iTranslate – I never get to use my language skills in the very vanilla western suburbs of Minneapolis, but I still like to be prepared.
  • NYTimes – More reading material and helps me stay current.
  • WiFi Finder – It was this or the Starbux Locator (and where there is Starbuck’s there is wifi), but I already have an uncanny ability to find the closest Starbucks so wifi it was.
  • Settings – Maybe it’s because I’m new to this mobile game, but I change/lookup settings quite often, so it needed to be front page.

So, what’s worthy of your homescreen?

6.23.2009

Thank You, Lowe's!

For several years now, Lowe's has been an amazing sponsor of SkillsUSA. This year they outdid themselves by donating $1.5 million to the National organization, in addition to the grants they provide to local chapters. Thank you to Lowes for continuing to believe in the mission of SkillsUSA and their support of students pursuing technical careers. I know where I'll be doing my hardware shopping.

Lowes Supports SkillsUSA

Lowes Donates $1.5 Million to SkillsUSA


SkillsUSA Opening Ceremony – LIVE!

Weren’t lucky enough to attend this years SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference? Watch the opening ceremony live on the web. The webcast will begin at 6pm CST and the ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7pm CST. There are always excellent keynote speakers at the opening ceremony. This year’s speakers are:

Wendy Venturini, the first female play-by-play announcer in auto racing history and reporter for the SPEED CHANNEL pre-race show, “NASCAR RaceDay.” Wendy was also a national gold medalist in the prepared speech contest at the 1996 SkillsUSA Championships – see, SkillsUSA takes you places :).

Stephen Paletta, philanthropist and winner of Oprah’s Big Give. Paletta created The International Education Exchange, a nonprofit organization that builds schools and libraries, and trains teachers in Africa, and since being awarded one million dollars for winning Oprah’s Big Give, he founded Stephen’s Journey Foundation, dedicated to shining a light on social entrepreneurs around the world to provide a portal for donors to find effective, accountable grassroots nonprofit groups.

Minnesotans should logon to see our very own Jennifer Leff, Region IV Advisor of the Year (and a great roomie too), receive her award. She may even win National Advisor of the Year – good luck, Jen!

Live from Kansas City – SkillsUSA NLSC 2009 Opening Ceremony

SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference

SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA:
Preparing for leadership in the world of work


This week I am attending the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference, so expect my blog posts, tweets, and status updates to full of career & technical education goodness, along with general updates of conference happenings (for those tweeting about the conference, use the hashtag NLSC09). For those not familiar with SkillsUSA (formerly know as VICA), I hope you will take this opportunity to learn more about this wonderful organization that continues to positively impact thousands of students and to discover ways you can get involved. For more information about the organization visit the SkillsUSA website.

6.21.2009

Not a Phone (iPod Touch)

I haven’t had a cell phone for several months now and I don’t miss it one bit. When I did have a phone, I didn’t care enough to keep track of it (or would purposely leave it at home); when I did have it in my possession it was rarely charged. My closest friends and family knew the best way to get a hold of me was to send an email – if I didn’t answer within a few hours, I didn’t want to be found.

iPod Touch

iPod Touch

As much as I hate phones, particularly of the mobile variety, I began to envy those who could use their phones to do everything from jot notes to tweet to check email; I even missed being able to text. There are even a few situations when I need to be out and about but reachable (like this week, at the SkillsUSA National Conference, where texting is best way to track down missing students). So I decided I needed some sort of mobile device that was smaller than a laptop but could be used to send text messages. Enter the iPod Touch.

I have had my iPod Touch for less than 48 hours, but am completely enamored with it. Here’s what I love about Gnada (That’s my iPod’s name. More on my device naming later):

  1. Keeping Connected – I have my iPod set to sync with my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Contacts. I particularly like that new emails are pushed to my iPod as soon as I get an internet connection.
  2. Texting - I think that texting is one of the best communication methods. Texting is unobtrusive, short, and quiet.
  3. Evernote gone mobile - Evernote is one of my favorite productivity tools – it is the external hard drive to my brain. I use Evernote to remember code snippets & command, record titles of books to read or movies to see, collect recipes, take notes at seminars, and anything I will probably forget. Being able to do this on-the-go is even better. I even paid $9.95 for the software upgrade necessary for the new Evernote app.
  4. Offline Reading - Thanks to Read It Later, I always have a list of webpages to read, and now I can use my iPod to download pages to have reading material available regardless of wifi availability. Eventually I will learn how to use the iPod as an e-book reader too.
  5. Social Networking – Having access to Twitter and Facebook more often means I have less catching up when I do finally have a moment to sit at my computer.
  6. It’s not a phone – People still can’t call me.

As much as I love my iPod, there are already a few (okay, two) things I wish it had/could do. Granted, I could have these features with an iPhone, but I simply can’t afford a monthly plan right now, so instead I shall wish for a iPod that can:

  1. Access a 3G network (I’d even pay a monthly fee, just not $70/month!)
  2. Take pictures and video.

The funny thing is that I don’t have any music on Gnada yet, and I haven’t decided if I will even put music on it – I already have iPod that stores my entire music collection, so I may just save all 8GB for data.

Already have an iPod Touch? I’d love to hear any tips you may have, especially suggestions for apps to install.

6.20.2009

Cut to the Chase (Thing 47)

Despite the fact that I did explore most of the Things, I never got around to blogging about half of them. But since today is the (extended) deadline for More Things, I am skipping ahead to the evaluation.

I really enjoyed exploring the resources and tools in the More Things program, and when I found something really neat, I even enjoyed blogging about it. However, the blogging was the hardest part, as I didn't always have the time nor desire to post my thoughts. If there were another More Things program, I would definitely participate, but rather than have each participant blog, I think it would be more useful to use a discussion format, like a Ning, to share our thoughts (in fact, the Ning was one of my favorite Things).

My favorite Thing was definitely Twitter, which is ironic, since going into this I was dreading having to do not one, but two Twitter Things. I had been avoiding twitter for so long; turns out I just didn't understand how useful it could be. Here I thought it was just another social network - ha! I gain so much useful information from my Twitter network - and even got a job via Twitter - that I wish I had started earlier.

Twitter was really the only Thing that was completely new to me, but every Thing had at least one or two tools that I had never tried (even the Google Tools Thing!!). Reading what others thought about the tools or how they used also gave me ideas on new uses for familiar tools. I especially liked the plethora of articles that accompanied the tools - they added a lot of value.

So when does the Even More Things program start? Sign me up!

6.19.2009

Reference: a Beacon in the Darkness of Answer Sites (Thing 34)

I’ve been too busy exploring all of the Things to actually blog about them, so expect a slew of Things posts in the next couple of days. While I will not kid myself into thinking that I will finish them all by impending deadline, I will share what I have. So, I continue with Thing 34, Online Answer Sites.

Allow Me to Digress

Reference is not going away. If anything, good reference – both resources and recommendations – is more critical in today’s state of information-overload than it was in yesteryears. The format of reference, however, is transitioning to the digital realm in order to adapt to our increasingly wired (or wireless as it were) society. Being able to access more resources online means being able to access more information (the internet doesn’t require weeding to fit new information) more often (the internet never closes…unless you depend on your local coffee shop’s free wifi) by more people (digital information is more accessible to those with disabilities, such as those who are homebound or have visual impairments). Index and search technologies also make it possible to find needed information quicker, and perhaps with more precision.

In-person reference consultations and resources do still serve a purpose. In my job as a tech guru (not my official title, but more accurate) I prefer to help staff in person because not only do the interrogations conversations better clarify an issue (“my internet is not working” could mean anything from IE quits suddenly to the online gradebook is really slow, depending on the staff member), but I can also read people’s expressions and gather whether or not they really understand what I am saying. Based on the articles in Thing 34, I bet a lot of reference librarians would agree with this sentiment. As for the resources themselves, while I love having digital information available as quickly as my fingers can type a query, I will often reference books instead of online texts (especially when learning new programming languages, ironically) because they are often more comprehensive and don’t require electricity to operate (finding an open outlet at the beach is a bit difficult).

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

I never go to answers web sites when I have a question, though I do occasionally land on them via a search engine. On the rare occasion I have found useful information on an answer site, if only confirmation that others have experienced a similar issue.

Overall, I find answer sites to be too general and rather useless; replies are rarely accompanied by additional sources, if the answer the question at all. I have also never answered questions on such sites, as I have found most questions could be answered by Let Me Google That For You (or my favorite, Just Fucking Google It).

Would I recommend any answer websites to the staff or students at my school. Nope. I have yet to find an answer site I like.

(Please excuse the of exorbitant amount of parentheticalness [totally a word…according to the internet]; perhaps next time I will use footnotes instead.)

6.09.2009

Save Space on Your Bookmark Toolbar (Firefox or Chrome)

Placing your bookmarks in the bookmark toolbar is a great way to keep your favorite webpages just a click away. However, unless you have a REALLY wide screen, the toolbar fills up quickly. To increase your bookmark toolbar capacity, remove the bookmark title/name altogether*, leaving only the favicon. See how much space this saves:
Favicon Bookmark

To remove a bookmark's title/name, right-click on it and select Properties (Firefox) or Edit...(Chrome), then delete the name. This does not work well with every bookmark, since some pages do not have custom favicons; or, in a case like Google Apps, not every page on a website has a distinct favicon.


FavIcon Bookmarks

Favicon Bookmarks


*Internet Explorer requires a title for the bookmark - even if it's just one character - so instead, you should use Firefox or Chrome...anything but IE.

6.02.2009

Control Your Clicks

Holding down the Ctrl button* while clicking on a link will open a webpage in a new tab or window. For those stuck using Internet Explorer (if you're using it by choice, see: We Don't Support IE), the Ctrl + click method also bypasses the pop-up blocker, for when a poorly designed website is forcing content to open in a new Window, which IE often perceives as a pop-up. Opening links inside Microsoft Word and/or Outlook also require a user to hold down Ctrl while clicking.

Bonus: If you are a firefox user who likes to open everything in a new tab, check out the Tree Style Tabs add-on for organizing your tabs into collapsible hierachies; tabs can also be displayed vertically allowing more to be visible at once.

*Rumor has it that the CMD button does the same on a Mac.

Was it good for you too?

The Emotional Rollercoaster That Was My First Time Building a Computer

Last week I decided it was time. Running my digital imaging business from a 4-year-old, 15-inch Dell laptop was like editing photos on an Etch-A-Sketch, a broken one. Not to mention I was a bit of a poser, tooling around town with a Geek Squad* bumper sticker on the back of my plastic Honda Civic (but she’s a pretty red plastic) without ever having built my own computer. I had disassembled plenty of computers (even reassembled a few…minus a couple screws) to know that the inside of a computer is not nearly as complex as computer retailers make it seem. Still, looks – and internet forums full of geeks – are deceiving.

I tried to read the manual, but it had no words

Bad Instruction Manual

Arrows Tell Me Nothing

For a community likes to tell noobs to RTFM, most computer hardware manuals really suck. Some had only pictures, others only words, and even in 12 different languages they managed to say nothing. The companies must assume that if you knew enough to buy the product, you must know how to install it, which I thought I did.

The first step in building a computer is installing the CPU (processor) in the motherboard. Assuming you don’t kill the CPU with static electricity or by forcing it in the wrong way, step one is easy: place CPU in the motherboard. Step 2, attaching the CPU cooler to the motherboard, should be just as simple, but this is where the foot-stomping and whining began. They say (I know, I need to stop listening to Them), that motherboards are fragile. Don’t touch this; don’t bend that; be careful. Well, being careful was just not working. Despite my best firm-but-gentle pressing, I was only able to get one side of the cooler to hook onto the mobo. Giving in to my inner bully, which has previously served me well in rugby, sibling rivalry, and holiday shopping, I smacked the cooler down (note: smacking is not recommend protocol) and gave the hooks a good shove. The cooler finally snapped into placed and I locked it in before it could change it’s mind.

Don’t hold your breath; the lack of oxygen makes fixing harder

The Beast

The Beast

After the CPU cooler, everything else fell into place, or rather were shoved into place; as it turns out, a lot of computer hardware needs quite a bit of force to be install. Fragile, uh huh, like a tank. After all the cables were connected to something, I plugged in the Beast (the picture does not do the computer justice, if you saw this 30-lb hunk o’ steel in person, you would understand the name). I held my breath and pressed the power button…only to give an exasperated sigh as nothing happened. The cable from the power case had not been labeled with +/- sides, so I hoped I had just plugged it in backward, and that I had not actually busted my CPU and/or mobo while “installing” the cooler. Fortunately, it turned out to be the former. After I flipped the power cable, Beast began to growl.

The Fun, the Frustrating, and the Downright Confuzzling

The minor frustrations of ambiguous instructions, absent labels, and my lack of fine motor skills aside, building the Beast was definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Was it fun? Even as a girl who got excited at her first multi-tip screwdriver set, I can’t really say that I really had fun (destruction is more my style). However, I am ecstatic to finally have a powerful system worthy of a geek and her Adobe Creative Suite. Had I given a retailer as much money as I spent on parts, I would have a plastic toy instead. To me, the fun part is playing with the Beast; building was a means to an excellent end. Would I do it again? Most definitely, and you should too…just remember that first times are never as good as expected.

*I do not work for Best Buy. I don't even patronize their over-priced stores. I just like the bumper sticker.