Category Archives: workflow

Buzz Factor

I have an ambivalent relationship with buzzwords and buzzphrases. I find them dangerous, especially when they contribute to groupthink, but I also like to play with them. Whether I try (perhaps clumsily) to create some or I find one to be useful in encapsulating insight.

The reason I’m thinking about this is that I participated in the PodCamp Montreal UnConference, giving a buzzphrase-laden presentation on social media and academia (or “social acamedia,” as I later called it).

I’ll surely revisit a number of notes I’ve taken (mostly through Twitter) during the unconference. But I thought I’d post something as a placeholder.

Some buzzphrases/-words I’ve been known to use should serve as the bases for explanations about a few things I’ve been rambling about the past few years.

Here are a few (some of which I’ve tried to coin):

Not that all of these paint a clear picture of what I’ve been thinking about. But they’re all part of a bigger framework through which I observe and participate in Geek Culture. One day, I might do a formal/academic ethnography of the Geek Crowd.

Crazy App Idea: Happy Meter

I keep getting ideas for apps I’d like to see on Apple’s App Store for iPod touch and iPhone. This one may sound a bit weird but I think it could be fun. An app where you can record your mood and optionally broadcast it to friends. It could become rather sophisticated, actually. And I think it can have interesting consequences.

The idea mostly comes from Philippe Lemay, a psychologist friend of mine and fellow PDA fan. Haven’t talked to him in a while but I was just thinking about something he did, a number of years ago (in the mid-1990s). As part of an academic project, Philippe helped develop a PDA-based research program whereby subjects would record different things about their state of mind at intervals during the day. Apart from the neatness of the data gathering technique, this whole concept stayed with me. As a non-psychologist, I personally get the strong impression that recording your moods frequently during the day can actually be a very useful thing to do in terms of mental health.

And I really like the PDA angle. Since I think of the App Store as transforming Apple’s touch devices into full-fledged PDAs, the connection is rather strong between Philippe’s work at that time and the current state of App Store development.

Since that project of Philippe’s, a number of things have been going on which might help refine the “happy meter” concept.

One is that “lifecasting” became rather big, especially among certain groups of Netizens (typically younger people, but also many members of geek culture). Though the lifecasting concept applies mostly to video streams, there are connections with many other trends in online culture. The connection with vidcasting specifically (and podcasting generally) is rather obvious. But there are other connections. For instance, with mo-, photo-, or microblogging. Or even with all the “mood” apps on Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook as a platform, I think it meshes especially well with touch devices.

So, “happy meter” could be part of a broader app which does other things: updating Facebook status, posting tweets, broadcasting location, sending personal blogposts, listing scores in a Brain Age type game, etc.

Yet I think the “happy meter” could be useful on its own, as a way to track your own mood. “Turns out, my mood was improving pretty quickly on that day.” “Sounds like I didn’t let things affect me too much despite all sorts of things I was going through.”

As a mood-tracker, the “happy meter” should be extremely efficient. Because it’s easy, I’m thinking of sliders. One main slider for general mood and different sliders for different moods and emotions. It would also be possible to extend the “entry form” on occasion, when the user wants to record more data about their mental state.

Of course, everything would be save automatically and “sent to the cloud” on occasion. There could be a way to selectively broadcast some slider values. The app could conceivably send reminders to the user to update their mood at regular intervals. It could even serve as a “break reminder” feature. Though there are limitations on OSX iPhone in terms of interapplication communication, it’d be even neater if the app were able to record other things happening on the touch device at the same time, such as music which is playing or some apps which have been used.

Now, very obviously, there are lots of privacy issues involved. But what social networking services have taught us is that users can have pretty sophisticated notions of privacy management, if they’re given the chance. For instance, adept Facebook users may seem to indiscrimately post just about everything about themselves but are often very clear about what they want to “let out,” in context. So, clearly, every type of broadcasting should be controlled by the user. No opt-out here.

I know this all sounds crazy. And it all might be a very bad idea. But the thing about letting my mind wander is that it helps me remain happy.

Selling Myself Long

Been attending sessions by Meri Aaron Walker about online methods to get paid for our expertise. Meri coaches teachers about those issues.

MAWSTOOLBOX.COM

There’s also a LearnHub “course”: Jumpstart Your Online Teaching Career.

Some notes, on my own thinking about monetization of expertise. Still draft-like, but RERO is my battle cry.

Some obstacles to my selling expertise:

  • My “oral personality.”
  • The position on open/free knowledge in academia and elsewhere.
  • My emphasis on friendship and personal rapport.
  • My abilities as an employee instead of a “boss.”
  • Difficulty in assessing the value of my expertise.
  • The fact that other people have the same expertise that I think I have.
  • High stakes (though this can be decreased, in some contexts).
  • My distaste for competition/competitiveness.
  • Difficulty at selling and advertising myself (despite my social capital).
  • Being a creative generalist instead of a specialist.

Despite all these obstacles, I have been thinking about selling my services online.

One reason is that I really do enjoy teaching. As I keep saying, teaching is my hobby (when I get paid, it’s to learn how to interact with other learners and to set up learning contexts).

In fact, I enjoy almost everything in teaching (the major exception being grading/evaluating). From holding office hours and lecturing to facilitating discussions and answering questions through email. Teaching, for me, is deeply satisfying and I think that learning situations which imply the role of a teacher still make a lot of sense. I also like more informal learning situations and I even try to make my courses more similar to informal teaching. But I still find specific value in a “teaching and learning” system.

Some people seem to assume that teaching a course is the same thing as “selling expertise.” My perspective on learning revolves to a large extent on the difference between teaching and “selling expertise.” One part is that I find a difference between selling a product or process and getting paid in a broader transaction which does involve exchange about knowledge but which isn’t restricted to that exchange. Another part is that I don’t see teachers as specialists imparting their wisdom to eager masses. I see knowledge as being constructed in diverse situations, including formal and informal learning. Expertise is often an obstacle in the kind of teaching I’m interested in!

Funnily enough, I don’t tend to think of expertise as something that is easily measurable or transmissible. Those who study expertise have ways to assess something which is related to “being an expert,” especially in the case of observable skills (many of those are about “playing,” actually: chess, baseball, piano…). My personal perspective on expertise tends to be broader, more fluid. Similar to experience, but with more of a conscious approach to learning.

There also seems to be a major difference between “breadth of expertise” and “topics you can teach.” You don’t necessarily need to be very efficient at some task to help someone learn to do it. In fact, in some cases, being proficient in a domain is an obstacle to teaching in that domain, since expertise is so ingrained as to be very difficult to retrieve consciously.

This is close to “do what I say, not what I do.” I even think that it can be quite effective to actually instruct people without direct experience of these instructions. Similar to consulting, actually. Some people easily disagree with this point and some people tease teachers about “doing vs. teaching.” But we teachers do have a number of ways to respond, some of them snarkier than others. And though I disagree with several parts of his attitude, I quite like this short monologue by Taylor Mali about What Teachers Make.

Another reason I might “sell my expertise” is that I genuinely enjoy sharing my expertise. I usually provide it for free, but I can possibly relate to the value argument. I don’t feel so tied to social systems based on market economy (socialist, capitalist, communist…) but I have to make do.

Another link to “selling expertise” is more disciplinary. As an ethnographer, I enjoy being a “cultural translator.” of sorts. And, in some cases, my expertise in some domains is more of a translation from specialized speech into laypeople’s terms. I’m actually not very efficient at translating utterances from one language to another. But my habit of navigating between different “worlds” makes it possible for me to bridge gaps, cross bridges, serve as mediator, explain something fairly “esoteric” to an outsider. Close to popularization.

So, I’ve been thinking about what can be paid in such contexts which give prominence to expertise. Tutoring, homework help, consulting, coaching, advice, recommendation, writing, communicating, producing content…

And, finally, I’ve been thinking about my domains of expertise. As a “Jack of All Trades,” I can list a lot of those. My level of expertise varies greatly between them and I’m clearly a “Master of None.” In fact, some of them are merely from personal experience or even anecdotal evidence. Some are skills I’ve been told I have. But I’d still feel comfortable helping others with all of them.

I’m funny that way.

Domains of  Expertise

French

  • Conversation
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Culture
  • Literature
  • Regional diversity
  • Chanson appreciation

Bamanan (Bambara)

  • Greetings
  • Conversation

Social sciences

  • Ethnographic disciplines
  • Ethnographic field research
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Symbolic anthropology
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Folkloristics

Semiotics

Language studies

  • Language description
  • Social dimensions of language
  • Language change
  • Field methods

Education

  • Critical thinking
  • Lifelong learning
  • Higher education
  • Graduate school
  • Graduate advising
  • Academia
  • Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Engaging students
  • Getting students to talk
  • Online teaching
  • Online tools for teaching

Course Management Systems (Learning Management Systems)

  • Oncourse
  • Sakai
  • WebCT
  • Blackboard
  • Moodle

Social networks

  • Network ethnography
  • Network analysis
  • Influence management

Web platforms

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Ning
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Jaiku
  • YouTube
  • Flickr

Music

  • Cultural dimensions of music
  • Social dimensions of music
  • Musicking
  • Musical diversity
  • Musical exploration
  • Classical saxophone
  • Basic music theory
  • Musical acoustics
  • Globalisation
  • Business models for music
  • Sound analysis
  • Sound recording

Beer

  • Homebrewing
  • Brewing techniques
  • Recipe formulation
  • Finding ingredients
  • Appreciation
  • Craft beer culture
  • Brewing trends
  • Beer styles
  • Brewing software

Coffee

  • Homeroasting
  • Moka pot brewing
  • Espresso appreciation
  • Coffee fundamentals
  • Global coffee trade

Social media

Blogging

  • Diverse uses of blogging
  • Writing tricks
  • Workflow
  • Blogging platforms

Podcasts

  • Advantages of podcasts
  • Podcasts in teaching
  • Filming
  • Finding podcasts
  • Embedding content

Technology

  • Trends
  • Geek culture
  • Equipment
  • Beta testing
  • Troubleshooting Mac OS X

Online Life

Communities

  • Mailing-lists
  • Generating discussions
  • Entering communities
  • Building a sense of community
  • Diverse types of communities
  • Community dynamics
  • Online communities

Food

  • Enjoying food
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Vinaigrette
  • Pizza dough
  • Bread

Places

  • Montreal, Qc
  • Lausanne, VD
  • Bamako, ML
  • Bloomington, IN
  • Moncton, NB
  • Austin, TX
  • South Bend, IN
  • Fredericton, NB
  • Northampton, MA

Pedestrianism

  • Carfree living
  • Public transportation
  • Pedestrian-friendly places

Tools I Use

  • PDAs
  • iPod
  • iTunes
  • WordPress.com
  • Skype
  • Del.icio.us
  • Diigo
  • Blogger (Blogspot)
  • Mac OS X
  • Firefox
  • Flock
  • Internet Explorer
  • Safari
  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Maps
  • Zotero
  • Endnote
  • RefWorks
  • Zoho Show
  • Wikipedia
  • iPod touch
  • SMS
  • Outlining
  • PowerPoint
  • Slideshare
  • Praat
  • Audacity
  • Nero Express
  • Productivity software

Effective Web searches

Socialization

  • Social capital
  • Entering the field
  • Creating rapport
  • Event participation
  • Event hosting

Computer Use

  • Note-taking
  • Working with RSS feeds
  • Basic programing concepts
  • Data manipulations

Research Methods

  • Open-ended interviewing
  • Qualitative data analysis

Personal

  • Hedonism
  • Public speaking
  • GERD
  • Strabismus
  • Moving
  • Cultural awareness

Visualizing Touch Devices in Education

Took me a while before I watched this concept video about iPhone use on campus.

Connected: The Movie – Abilene Christian University

Sure, it’s a bit campy. Sure, some features aren’t available on the iPhone yet. But the basic concepts are pretty much what I had in mind.

Among things I like in the video:

  • The very notion of student empowerment runs at the centre of it.
  • Many of the class-related applications presented show an interest in the constructivist dimensions of learning.
  • Material is made available before class. Face-to-face time is for engaging in the material, not rehashing it.
  • The technology is presented as a way to ease the bureaucratic aspects of university life, relieving a burden on students (and, presumably, on everyone else involved).
  • The “iPhone as ID” concept is simple yet powerful, in context.
  • Social networks (namely Facebook and MySpace, in the video) are embedded in the campus experience.
  • Blended learning (called “hybrid” in the video) is conceived as an option, not as an obligation.
  • Use of the technology is specifically perceived as going beyond geek culture.
  • The scenarios (use cases) are quite realistic in terms of typical campus life in the United States.
  • While “getting an iPhone” is mentioned as a perk, it’s perfectly possible to imagine technology as a levelling factor with educational institutions, lowering some costs while raising the bar for pedagogical standards.
  • The shift from “eLearning” to “mLearning” is rather obvious.
  • ACU already does iTunes U.
  • The video is released under a Creative Commons license.

Of course, there are many directions things can go, from here. Not all of them are in line with the ACU dream scenario. But I’m quite hope judging from some apparently random facts: that Apple may sell iPhones through universities, that Apple has plans for iPhone use on campuses,  that many of the “enterprise features” of iPhone 2.0 could work in institutions of higher education, that the Steve Jobs keynote made several mentions of education, that Apple bundles iPod touch with Macs, that the OLPC XOXO is now conceived more as a touch handheld than as a laptop, that (although delayed) Google’s Android platform can participate in the same usage scenarios, and that browser-based computing apparently has a bright future.

Waiting for Other Touch Devices?

Though I’m interpreting Apple’s current back-to-school special to imply that we might not see radically new iPod touch models until September, I’m still hoping that there will be a variety of touch devices available in the not-so-distant future, whether or not Apple makes them.

Turns out, the rumour mill has some items related to my wish, including this one:

AppleInsider | Larger Apple multi-touch devices move beyond prototype stage

This could be excellent news for the device category as a whole and for Apple itself. As explained before, I’m especially enthusiastic about touch devices in educational contexts.

I’ve been lusting over an iPod touch since it was announced. I sincerely think that an iPod touch will significantly enhance my life. As strange as it may sound, especially given the fact I’m no gadget freak, I think frequently about the iPod touch. Think Wayne, in Wayne’s World 2, going to a music store to try a guitar (and being denied the privilege to play Stairway to Heaven). That’s almost me and the iPod touch. When I go to an Apple Store, I spend precious minutes with a touch.

Given my current pattern of computer use, the fact that I have no access to a laptop at this point, and the availability of WiFi connections at some interesting spots, I think an iPod touch will enable me to spend much less time in front of this desktop, spend much more time outside, and focus on my general well-being.

One important feature the touch has, which can have a significant effect on my life, is instant-on. My desktop still takes minutes to wake up from “Stand by.” Several times during the day, the main reason I wake my desktop is to make sure I haven’t received important email messages. (I don’t have push email.) For a number of reasons, what starts out as simple email-checking frequently ends up being a more elaborate browsing session. An iPod touch would greatly reduce the need for those extended sessions and let me “do other things with my life.”

Another reason a touch would be important in my life at this point is that I no longer have access to a working MP3 player. While I don’t technically need any portable media player to be happy, getting my first iPod just a few years ago was an important change in my life. I’ll still miss my late iRiver‘s recording capabilities, but it’s now possible to get microphone input on the iPod touch. Eventually, the iPod touch could become a very attractive tool for fieldwork recordings. Or for podcasting. Given my audio orientation, a recording-capable iPod touch could be quite useful. Even more so than iPod Classic with recording capabilities.

There are a number of other things which should make the iPod touch very useful in my life. A set of them have to do with expected features and applications. One is Omni Group’s intention to release their OmniFocus task management software through the iPhone SDK. As an enthusiastic user of OmniOutliner for most of the time I’ve spent on Mac OS X laptops, I can just imagine how useful OmniFocus could be on an iPod touch. Getting Things Done, the handheld version. It could help me streamline my whole workflow, the way OO used to do. In other words: OF on an iPod touch could be this fieldworker’s dream come true.

There are also applications to be released for Apple’s Touch devices which may be less “utilitarian” but still quite exciting. Including the Trism game. In terms of both “appropriate use of the platform” and pricing, Trism scores high on my list. I see it as an excellent example of what casual gaming can be like. One practical aspect of casual gaming, especially on such a flexible device as the iPod touch, is that it can greatly decrease stress levels by giving users “something to do while they wait.” I’ve had that experience with other handhelds. Whether it’s riding the bus or waiting for a computer to wake up from stand by, having something to do with your hands makes the situation just a tad bit more pleasant.

I’m also expecting some new features to eventually be released through software, including some advanced podcatching features like wireless synchronization of podcasts and, one can dream, a way to interact directly with podcast content. Despite having been an avid podcast listener for years, I think podcasts aren’t nearly “interactive” enough. Software on a touch device could solve this. But that part is wishful thinking. I tend to do a lot of wishlists. Sometimes, my daydreams become realities.

The cool thing is, it looks as though I’ll be able to get my own touch device in the near future. w00t! 😀

Even if Apple does release new Touch devices, the device I’m most likely to get is an iPod touch. Chances are that I might be able to get a used 8MB touch for a decent price. Especially if, as is expected for next Monday, Apple officially announces the iPhone for Canada (possibly with a very attractive data plan) As a friend was telling me, once Canadians are able to get their hands on an iPhone directly in Canada, there’ll likely be a number of used iPod touches for sale. With a larger supply of used iPod touches and a presumably lower demand for the same, we ca
n expect a lower price.

Another reason I might get an iPod touch is that a friend of mine has been talking about helping me with this purchase. Though I feel a bit awkward about accepting this kind of help, I’m very enthusiastic at the prospect.

Watch this space for more on my touch life. 😉

Less Than 30 Minutes

Nice!

At 20:27 (EST) on Saturday, November 17, 2007, I post a blog entry on the archaic/rare French term «queruleuse» (one equivalent of “querulous”). At 20:54 (EST) of the same day, Google is already linking my main blog page as the first page containing the term “queruleuse” and as the fourth page containing the term “querulente.” At that point in time, the only other result for “queruleuse” was to a Google Book. Interestingly enough, a search in Google Book directly lists other Google Books containing that term, including different versions of the same passage. These other books do not currently show up on the main Google search for that term. And blogs containing links to this blog are now (over two hours after my «queruleuse» post) showing above the Google Book in search results.

Now, there’s nothing very extraordinary, here. The term «queruleuse» is probably not the proper version of the term. In fact, «querulente» seems a bit more common. Also, “querulous” and “querulent” both exist in English, and their definitions seem fairly similar to the concept to which «queruleuse» was supposed to refer. So, no magic, here.

But I do find it very interesting that it takes Google less than a half hour for Google to update its database to show my main page as the first result for a term which exists in its own Google Books database.

I guess the reason I find it so interesting is that I have thought a bit about SEO, Search Engine Optimization. I usually don’t care about such issues but a couple of things made me think about Google’s PageRank specifically.

One was that someone recently left a comment on this very blog (my main blog, among several), asking how long it took me to get a PageRank of 5. I don’t know the answer but it seems to me that my PageRank hasn’t varied since pretty much the beginning. I don’t use the Google Toolbar in my main browser so I don’t really know. But when I did look at the PR indicator on this blog, it seemed to be pretty much always at the midway point and I assumed it was just normal. What’s funny is that, after attending a couple Yulblog meetings more than a year ago, someone mentioned my PageRank, trying to interpret why it was so high. I checked that Yulblogger’s blog recently and it has a PR of 6, IIRC. Maybe even 7. (Pretty much an A-List blogger, IMHO.)

The other thing which made me think about PageRank is a discussion about it on a recent episode of the This Week in Tech (TWiT) “netcast” (or “podcast,” as everybody else would call it). On that episode, Chaos Manor author Jerry Pournelle mused about PageRank and its inability to provide a true measure of just about anything. Though most people would agree that PageRank is a less than ideal measure for popularity, influence, or even relevance, Pournelle’s point was made more strongly than “consensus opinion among bloggers.” I tend to agree with Pournelle. 😉

Of course, some people probably think that I’m a sore loser and that the reason I make claims about the irrelevance of PageRank is that I’d like to get higher in a blogosphere’s hierarchy. But, honestly, I had no idea that PR5 might be a decent rank until this commenter asked me about. Even when the aforementioned Yulblogger talked about it, I didn’t understand that it was supposed to be a rather significant number. I just thought this blogger was teasing (despite not being a teaser).

Answering the commenter’s question as to when my PR reached 5, I talked about the rarity of my name. Basically, I can always rely on my name being available on almost any service. Things might change if a distant cousin gets really famous really soon, of course… ;-) In fact, I’m wondering if talking about this on my blog might push someone to use my name for some service just to tease/annoy me. I guess there could even be more serious consequences. But, in the meantime, I’m having fun with my name’s rarity. And I’m assuming this rarity is a factor in my PageRank.

Problem is, this isn’t my only blog with my name in the domain. One of the others is on Google’s very own Blogger platform. So I’m guessing other factors contribute to this (my main) blog’s PageRank.

One factor is likely to be my absurdly long list of categories. Reason for this long list is that I was originally using them as tags, linked to Technorati tags. Actually, I recently shortened this list significantly by transforming many categories into tags. It’s funny that the PageRank-interested commenter replied to this very same post about categories and tags since I was then positing that the modification to my categories list would decrease the number of visits to this blog. Though it’s hard for me to assess an actual causal link, I do get significantly less visits since that time. And I probably do get a few more comments than before (which is exactly what I wanted). AFAICT, WordPress.com tags still work as Technorati tags so I have no idea how the change could have had an impact. Come to think of it, the impact probably is spurious.

A related factor is my absurdly long blogroll. I don’t “do it on purpose,” I just add pretty much any blog I come across. In fact, I’ve been adding most blogs authored by MyBlogLog visitors to this blog (those you see on the right, here). Kind of as a courtesy to them for having visited my blog. And I do the same thing with blogs managed by people who comment on this blog. I even do it with blogs by pretty much any Yulblogger I’ve come across, somehow. All of this is meant as a way to collect links to a wide diversity of blogs, using arbitrary selection criteria. Just because I can.

Actually, early on (before I grokked the concept of what a blogroll was really supposed to be), I started using the “Link This” bookmarklet to collect links whether they were to actual blogs or simply main pages. I wasn’t really using any Social Networking Service (SNS) at that point in time (though I had used some SNS several years prior) and I was thinking of these lists of people pretty much the same way many now conceive of SNS. Nowadays, I use Facebook as my main SNS (though I have accounts on other SNS, including MySpace). So this use of links/blogrolls has been superseded by actual SNS.

What has not been superseded and may in fact be another factor for my PageRank is the fact that I tend to keep links of much of the stuff I read. After looking at a wide variety of “social bookmarking systems,” I recently settled on Spurl (my Spurl RSS). And it’s not really that Spurl is my “favourite social bookmarking system evah.” But Spurl is the one system which fits the most in (or least disrupts) my workflow right now. In fact, I keep thinking about “social bookmarking systems” and I have lots of ideas about the ideal one. I know I’ll be posting some of these ideas someday, but many of these ideas are a bit hard to describe in writing.

At any rate, my tendency to keep links on just about anything I read might contribute to my PageRank as Google’s PageRank does measure the number of outgoing links. On the other hand, the fact that I put my Spurl feed on my main page probably doesn’t have much of an impact on my PageRank since I started doing this a while after I started this blog and I’m pretty sure my PageRank remained the same. (I’m pretty sure Google search only looks at the actual blog entries, not the complete blog site. But you never know…)

Now, another tendency I have may also be a factor. I tend to link to my own blog entries. Yeah, I know, many bloggers see this as self-serving and lame. But I do it as a matter of convenience and “thought management.” It helps me situate some of my “streams of thought” and I like the idea of backtracking my blog entries. Actually, it’s all part of a series of habits after I started blogging, 2.5 years ago. And since I basically blog for fun, I don’t really care if people think my habits are lame.

Sheesh! All this for a silly integer about which I tend not to think. But I do enjoy thinking about what brings people to specific blogs. I don’t see blog statistics on any of my other blogs and I get few enough comments or trackbacks to not get much data on other factors. So it’s not like I can use my blogs as a basis for a quantitative study of “blog influence” or “search engine relevance.”

One dimension which would interesting to explore, in relation to PageRank, is the network of citations in academic texts. We all know that Brin and Page got their PageRank idea from the academic world and the academic world is currently looking at PageRank-like measures of “citation impact” (“CitationRank” would be a cool name). I tend to care very little about the quantitative evaluation of even “citation impact” in academia, but I really am intrigued by the network analysis of citations between academic references. One fun thing there is that there seems to be a high clustering coefficient among academic papers in some research fields. In some cases, the coefficient itself could reveal something interesting but the very concept of “academic small worlds” may be important to consider. Especially since these “worlds” might integrate as apparently-coherent (and consistent) worldviews.

Groupthink, anyone? 😉

To a Newbie Blogger

 

Lisamm, who just commented on two of my own blog entries, is asking about blogging:How to Increase Your Blog Hits « Books on the Brain

Blogging is new to me. I haven’t learned the lingo. I don’t know the etiquette. I don’t know what a meme is (Do I want one? Do I need one? Is it fattening?) What is the deal with bloggers giving other bloggers awards? No one has challenged me, or tagged me, or whatever it is people do. I’m totally winging it.Someone told me recently that I could increase my blog hits with an intriguing title on my entries. Hmmmm. This one might get noticed. I guess we’ll see how it works.Speaking of blog hits, I seem to be getting a lot (I guess). What is a lot? How many do other people get?What is up with my obsessive desire to check my stats? How I love to see the blog stat graph go up, up, up. Is this normal? Why do I care? Do other bloggers do that? Will the obsession wear off soon????Experienced bloggers, I would love to hear from you. I’m hoping my insanity is only temporary.

My answers:Simply put, meme is an idea which propagates itself. Think “viral marketing.” Among bloggers, it often refers to a kind of tag-like game by which one blogger asks other blogger to post about something (say, eight random things about yourself) and to do the same with other people. It’s a fun (and non-fattening) way to connect with fellow bloggers.Awards are a bit similar. Bloggers tend to enjoy kudos, praises, marks of recognition, etc. Some awards (the “thinking blog” one is an example) are given as a way to connect bloggers who perceive to be of the same calibre, in one dimension or another.Intriguing titles do help increase traffic and bloggers are often (semi-secretly) proud of their clever titles. In this sense, we’re no different from journalists! An issue with titles, though, is that the type of traffic it increases might be the type of headline-reading which does relatively little good to a blog. My best example is my Facebook Celebs and Fakes post which is getting good traffic, apparently for the wrong reasons… ;-)As anyone can guess, “a lot” of blog hits is a really relative measure. Some bloggers get thousands of hits every single day, others get a few hundreds a month. From November, 2006 to February, 2007, I was getting an average of about 180 hits a day (with a peak at 307 hits in a single day). Since then, I’ve been down to about 100 to 130 hits a day. I still consider this to be a lot of hits, especially when I compare it to the number of comments I get. I also notice (by looking at the WordPress.com statistics page) that many of the hits I get come from Web searches about terms for which my entries aren’t that relevant (cf. “celebs and fakes” above).Many bloggers are obsessed by stats even if they know that they don’t tell much of a story. Bloggers often discuss measurement tools, especially if their blogging has a financial impact. Personally, I do check my blog stats regularly but I don’t really care about the numbers. It’s more of a way to observe tendencies, to learn more about effects of blogging, and as a way to assess differences between blog entries. Besides, the way WordPress.com works, the stats page is where incoming links are displayed. Now, having said all this, it’s probably true that I get a pleasant feeling when I see my numbers going up and I probably was slightly disappointed when they dropped. But those feelings are really transient.Speaking of graphs going up. It seems to be a common effect among bloggers that a site’s traffic will increase pretty regularly, regardless of what the blogger does. At least, that’s what I figured until my March, 2007 drop. I’m still a bit puzzled about this, actually.As for insanity, I think it comes with the territory.Main point of blogging is: blog the way you want to blog. Have fun, experiment with things, don’t take yourself too seriously. Blogging is just a system for making content available publicly. There aren’t set rules about blogging. In other words, don’t listen to any piece of advice.Now, a few words of advice. ;-)It’s probably a good idea not to make too much of stats. They’re fun to look at but they don’t say much about blogs. A blog with a small but dynamic reader-base is often better than a blog getting a lot of hits. Technorati and other measures of influence are similarly misleading as blogging isn’t “about that,” for most people. Yes, there are “A-list bloggers” out there (blogging celebrities, very influential bloggers). But starting a blog to become an A-list blogger is like learning a new language to become a best-selling author in that language.Use the bookmarklet in your blogging system. I can’t paste the WordPress.com one because WordPress.com doesn’t accept JavaScript in blog entries (for security reasons, allegedly), but it’s the one at the bottom of the blog writing page. I personally find those bookmarklets to be among the best features available anywhere. When you see a web page you want to blog about, select a piece of text and click on the bookmarklet from your bookmark bar. You then have a new blog entry with the title of the page, a link to that page, and the portion of text you selected. This part is so ingrained in my blogging habits that I often look for a page to start an entry from instead of creating a blank entry. That part may sound silly but it makes sense in my workflow.Speaking of workflow, it’s probably a good idea to take on tabbed browsing if you haven’t done so already. One blogging use of browser tabs is as placeholders for would-be blog entries. Kind of like a “to do” list for blogging. Notice something potentially bloggable? Keep that tab open so you can come back to it when you have time. I know other bloggers are doing this too because some talk about the number of tabs remaining in their browsers.Which leads me to one of the main hazards of blogging: you end up thinking about all the things you could say and you never find time to do much of it. As a general concept, “Information Overload” refers to something similar. Hence the need to adopt a blogging strategy. Personally, I haven’t find the best way to do it yet but I am decreasing my “blogload,” somehow. In fact, blogging itself does make me more efficient as it provides a central place for putting things I would otherwise repeat. (Though I end up with something like seven blogs…) So, my advice here would be something like: think about ways to control the number of things you want to blog about.One way to think about it is that, with “big issues,” other people have certainly blogged about them. Though there’s something intimidating about this, it also means that you may not need to blog about something if it’s likely to become common knowledge soon.Many bloggers seem to crave the latest thing. They want to “scoop” a story, be the first to blog it. Though it pains me to do so, I must say that I’m probably as guilty of this as the next blogger. Problem with this is that it requires a lot of effort to keep up with everything which is happening. And while being the first to blog about something might be the best way to get incredible traffic, the outcome may not be worth the effort.I try to take a longer view on things. If I can, I like to bring multiple items together in the same blog entry. Kind of like a “roundup,” if I can. It’s also a lot of effort, but it’s less likely to make you crazy than the quest for the first post.This all reminds me of a blog post I read about types of blog posts. IIRC, it was a presentation file and it had some things to say about the effectiveness of those posts. Though this kind of thinking makes a lot of sense for media-oriented bloggers, there’s a lot more to blogging than trying to build readership.Which leads me to the more social aspects of blogging. In the past several months, my blogging activities have probably decreased as my Facebook (Fb) activities increased. While Fb and blogging are quite different from one another, connections are quite clear. Posting notes or other items on Fb is almost exactly like a simplified form of blogging.There are disadvantages to posting things on Facebook.com, by comparison with blogging. There aren’t (AFAICT) RSS feeds for Fb Notes and Posted Items. Only your Fb friends can see (and comment on) things you post on Facebook. There isn’t a WYSIWYG editor for Fb notes (though you can use basic HTML). Fb notes don’t have categories or tags (though you can tag Fb friends). And you don’t get neat stats.But there are nice things about Fb notes and posted items. Since those items are seen by people who already know you, it’s often easier to get feedback through Facebook posted items than through a (public) blog. And because posted items are put on your Facebook profile, there’s a special connection between your items and your Facebook persona. Not to mention that blog entries can be posted directly on Facebook, which kills two birds with one stone.To get back to social dimensions of blogging… No matter how much bloggers like to talk about blogging as a social form of writing, it tends to be one-to-many, not many-to-many. In fact, most people who leave comments on blog entries are bloggers themselves. Though blogging is very “democratic,” it’s not the most efficient community-building tool available online.Anyhoo…I do tend to ramble a lot. There’s a lesson about blogging, somewhere… ;-)

Back in Mac: GTD Edition

Part of the series.
(Series created on August 13, 2011, and applied retroactively…)

Catherine got a MacBook (Combo Drive) last week. Though it’s her computer, I’ve been using it pretty extensively in the past few days. And it’s changing my life for the better.

Long story short. My iBook (Dual USB) from 2001 went kaput in December 2005. In a hurry to get a new computer and being a bit short on cash, I ended up a few weeks later with a refurbished eMachines desktop running XP. Though my original dissatisfaction with the machine probably had to do with the lack of RAM, I still thought fondly of my Mac OS X days and was longing for the day I could use a Mac again. Now that I can, I know why I missed Mac OS X so much.

At this point, I come to think that those people who love XP machines are those who like to play fast-paced games and/or to pirate software. I love computers for other reasons so these don’t apply to me.

Contrary to what is said in the Justin Long and John Hodgman ads, I tend to see Mac OS X as a way to get things done.

Yes, Getting Things Done is the title of a best-selling book by David Allen and has become a buzzphrase in recent years. I was indirectly influenced by some ideas from the book but I prefer to use my own methods of time-management. Still, I can easily associate the Mac with GTD the concept, if not GTD the book (which I haven’t had the time to read).

This past weekend, I read a “Final Assessment” on a Mac OS X application called iGTD. It’s a rather straightforward tool for managing tasks. Kind of a “to-do list on steroids.”

I tried iGTD for a few minutes last night. Neat app and it might end up being useful. I’ll give it more thought as time goes on but as I need to switch between different computers, I don’t think it’ll become my ultimate solution.

Trying iGTD was also a chance for me to try QuickSilver again, after all this time spent on an XP machine. I really like QS and I can really see how it fits in the GTD frame. It’s a convenient way to accomplish a large number of tasks very efficiently. It’s not the fact that it saves you a few seconds at a time which matters. It’s the fact that it makes it easy to not think about what you want to accomplish. Kind of what the QuickSilver people call “Wei Wu Wei – Act Without Doing.” QS is really a Mac OS X thing. It only works on Macs and it really fits in the Mac-based methodology for computer use.

Another example of Mac OS X apps to get things done: OmniOutliner. This is probably the single app which I most missed on XP. Sure, there are outliners on XP. But none of them made my workflow as smooth as OO did. I tried NetManage EccoPro and eventually abandoned it. EccoPro is very powerful and it was an ok replacement for the actual outlining functions but the fact that it hasn’t been developed in ages means that it lacks the kind of features which really make things go smoothly.  In other words, EccoPro is not that compatible with the Mac way of just doing things.

Things are so easy in my OO workflow! For instance, while preparing for courses, I would use OO to take rough notes while reading course material. (Actually, I took many of these notes on a PalmOS device to transfer to OO. That part was never so seamless and I tried everything to improve it but it was a vain attempt. Transferring from Palm to EccoPro is a bit simpler.) In OO, transforming raw notes into course outlines was extremely easy and efficient. I could then easily transform those outlines into printable lesson plans and slides using LaTeX, Keynote, PowerPoint, or RTF. All told, I could transform rough notes into course material in less than 10 minutes without thinking much about what I was doing. Made everything so easy that it really took me a while to adapt my workflow to XP. In fact, I can’t say I ever did. Sure, XP people will say that I could in fact do the same thing thing on XP, that I’m just an Apple fanboy. The fact that the PalmOS integration with OS X wasn’t so smooth seems to prove that point. But the key point here is not about my ability to do things. It’s about the flow part of workflow. Every method I used on XP to accomplish the same tasks eventually worked and I became quite good at them. I probably ended up spending just a few minutes more on any of these tasks. But nothing was really smooth. I could never be mindless about the process. I constantly had to make sure everything was working.

As it turns out OO also fits in the GTD frame. In fact, the first time I heard of GTD was probably on the OO user mailing-list. Some people there wanted the ultimate GTD solution based on OO. OO didn’t have a lot of GTD-savvy features but it seems that it could fit in the GTD methodology overall.

One step further, I think Mac OS X as a whole fits in the GTD frame.

But I probably will never jump on the GTD bandwagon. AFAICT, GTD is mostly based on sorting tasks and tracking them. Again, “to-do list on steroids.” But, contrary to my mother and to my wife, I’m usually no good with to-do lists. I keep accumulating stuff in them and end up more frustrating. Centralized systems work better for me so I do a lot on Gmail. Those who don’t know me extremely well certainly think that I’m completely disorganized. But I’ve found ways to organize myself through apparent chaos. In short, I’m messy and I’m proud of it. But I do respond to the very concept of “just getting things done already” which seems to be associated with GTD-friendly applications. In this case: iGTD, QS, OO, and… Mac OS X.

It sure is good to be back in Mac!

TIU: Spurl

Tools I Use: Spurl.net 1.0 – Free online bookmarks with so much more…

Been using Spurl for a while now. Far from perfect but very useful. To me, it brings together the functionalities of Del.icio.us (and other “social bookmarking” services) with those of the Scrapbook Firefox extension. Like Delicious, it allows you to tag and share bookmarks. Like Scrapbook, it keeps a copy of the bookmarked page.

At this point, I got the habit of spurling just anything that I find interesting on the Web. In some cases, I also blog on the bookmarked item. But I don’t necessarily feel a need to put everything in my “to-blog” list. I don’t even tag my bookmarks.

The upshot of my spurling habits is that anyone who wants to know what I’m reading on the Web can just look at my Spurl RSS feed (or Atom feed). In this case, Spurl serves one of the purposes people are using Twitter and other nanoblogging tools for. Yeah, I know it’s not the same thing at all. But, to me, spurling is the lazyperson’s version of nanoblogging.

Now, once the Flock browser does “spell as you type” and Spurl does del.icio.us syncs, I could just use keystrokes to spurl pages I visit.

Hey! Who do you call “lazy?”

Outlining

ATPM 11.10 – Outliners: TAO and OmniOutliner Pro
Comparison between two approaches to outlining. Some interesting comments about outlining usage.
As academics often need to write structured texts, a good outliner should really be a part of any academic's toolbox. Ted Goranson's column on outliners frequently contains insightful ideas about computer-assisted writing.
This specific column could use a bit of editing, though.

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