Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tools in my digital toolbox (today)

As I reflected recently on the digital tools I use now, versus, say two years ago, it struck me just how fast all of those things in the toolbox have changed. I know, it's cliche to say everything is changing fast, but everything is changing fast, gal-darnit.

For example, I looked at the computer I migrated from two years ago and was surprised to see very little of the same software that feels so familiar and comfortable to me now on my new machine.

For writing, I only keep Microsoft Office around anymore for emergencies (can I dislike that bloated piece of junk more? Well, there is IE, too, and Vista; I'm sensing a pattern ...) I now typically use OpenOffice but am already beginning to become a bigger and bigger believer in GoogleDocs and working from the cloud.

Google also has won me over with its browser Chrome. Chrome is so fast and sleek and, well, just amazingly fantastic, I can't imagine going back to Mozilla, and I won't even mention that bloated piece of junk IE. Can the Chrome OS get released soon enough? I would love to get rid of that bloated piece of junk Windows 7 (already unceremoniously dumped that bloated piece of junk Vista).

Anyway, in terms of core tools that I use professionally, Adobe's Creative Suite also quickly has become essential. I bring out Photoshop and InDesign almost daily and used Flash and Dreamweaver to design a couple of my key web sites. The full version of Adobe Acrobat has become really handy, often, and I use Premiere for video editing.

None of those tools were on my old machine, except OpenOffice (yet I still was using Microsoft Office at that time, due to compatibility issues with OO that since have been resolved). Two years ago, I wasn't using EndNote, or Twitter, or Skype or iTunes, all of which I use just about daily now. And this doesn't take into account the mobile apps on my Android phone, which is less than two years old, either. Audacity, the open source audio editing program, might be the tool with the most longevity right now for me. I definitely prefer open source software. Not just because I am a poor student. But I think there is something vibrant and special about software developed for the love of the software, not for profits.

Part of all of this, I suppose, is related to the ripening of my dissertation studies, but I also remember just a few months ago exploring both mind mapping and Venn diagram software and determining I would never have a use for either of those. Turns out, the mind mapping software (FreeMind, specifically) just this week turned out to be the exact tool I needed to help me organize my dissertation reading list. I was feeling frustrated with the list, and EndNote, as great as that is, just wasn't allowing me to visualize what I needed to do to string a thread through my reading list. So, in a moment of frustration, I thought I would give mind mapping another shot and ended up downloading FreeMind. I watched a couple of short web tutorials on YouTube and then started playing around with it. I don't know now if I could ever have even continued the reading list without it. I feel like telling everyone I know. So I am, at least those few who read this blog and actually would continue this far into such a rambling post. And the even fewer of you who have a reading list to plug into it, but for those of you who do, this is for you!

Through FreeMind, I not only was able to visualize my sourcing tree for the dissertation, but I have been able to score the sources in terms of list value, and mark the pieces I still need to read, and get copies of. Emboldened, then I thought I would try a quick Venn diagram of my unifying themes for the dissertation, and amazingly enough, that sort of worked, too.

So what's next? What do I want to bring into the toolbox, or pick up afresh? Maybe Final Cut Pro. ... I think Adobe Premiere is OK as a video editor. But I sense there could be something much better. I have heard so many good things about Final Cut Pro (also that it is difficult to learn). I would like to work more on my video editing, which is something that communicators of all types will need to be better at in the future. I enjoy doing that kind of work, too. Is there an opensource video editor that actually works well? Maybe I'll look into that first. Otherwise, I'll soon start looking for Final Cut Pro tutorials.


Nancy said...

Yes, I do read your blog and did read into "such a rambling post."

Bea Amaya said...

Although this sounds a bit 'racy' when put down on [electronic] paper, I assure you, it is meant in the best possible [academic] way. Also, as a grandmother (i.e. 'little old lady') I think I just might get by with it. goes...

Gee, Brett...what a nice set of tools you have! And you know how to use them too!

Chick Lit Gurrl said...

Can't stop laughing at the bloated pieces of junk. I'm a big fan of Chrome, too, and Google Docs. And I love Google Wave. I haven't used IE in years, and Firefox was kicked to the curb awhile ago.

How are you liking End Note? Me, have a bad relationship with it. I used it about a month ago to add a lot of sources (possible dissert stuff), and the other day I checked, and my library was totally erased. That, and I think I'm just a bit old school. I don't mind putting my sources in my paper myself.


Brett Oppegaard said...

I have been really happy with EndNote. In fact, I'm even thinking of upgrading to the new version, despite the cost, because this program is so very helpful. It did take some time to learn how to use it, and Texas Tech offered a tutorial session during the 2009 May Seminar, which really sold me on it. Maybe tutorial training would help. I don't know what to say about the lost library. That would be dreadful. But once the saving of the file (and backing up) is ironed out, I suspect you be happy if you gave EndNote a second chance.

Craig Baehr said...

FreeMind is reminiscent of Bush's Memex and Nelson's Project Xanadu. Your post makes me wonder what the major reasons for using more cloud computing office products is with many users, and if it's truly I want to use something less bloated or less filling, or because of other capabilities these cloud computing tools afford. Let's hope such healthy product competition raises the quality of tools for the user.