Thursday, October 31, 2013

14 things : Links for October 31st, 2013

Another entry in "Fascinating uses of technology", here is a semester-long project in which students in the UK recreated a section of London around Pudding Lane as it would have been before the Great Fire using a gaming engine. Their project blog goes into a lot more detail about their choices, how they did their research, and the technical and design implications, but the end result is a great way to get a view into history.

Curating the best tech skill resource sites: 
Want to learn something techie? There are lots of places to learn - so many it can be overwhelming. Bento exists to pull together some of the best resources for different computer programming languages and other skills, as well as telling you a little bit about what they do. Start by clicking on the HTML box, and it'll show you what languages and skills build on that box.

That's it for this week! Join us next week for Thing 4 in our series.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thing 3: All those things to do

"The General Problem" from - click through to see the strip and mouseover commentary.
We all have a lot to do, and a lot to keep track of - and technology can definitely help us out. Today's Thing is going to talk about a couple of different approaches, and touch on some of the many tools you can use to help you.


Calendar-based: Some people work best by blocking out time for different tasks - for example, you might schedule out some times when you are in class, some for dealing with homework, some for replying to email, and so on.
  • Pros: Ability to plan ahead. Able to see how you're spending your time and adjust.
  • Cons: Not very flexible, especially if you work with or rely on the work of others. Can require lots of rearranging if something takes more or less time than you expected. 
  • Tools: Calendar programs - Google Calendar, iCal, etc.
To-Do list: Another common approach is to put things on a to-do list and check each item off as you do it.
  • Pros: Simple, there are lots of tools to help you out.
  • Cons: Big tasks (write a paper, prepare a project) end up mingled with small tasks (reply to a simple email, get gas for the car.) It can be hard to sort out which ones you can do when or which are most urgent. 
  • Tools: Pen and paper, index cards, a number of software tools including Remember The Milk and Wunderlist. For those using GoogleApps (like UMaine folks do), there's also the Tasks tool.
Getting Things Done: Developed by David Allen, this started out widely popular in the business world, but it works great for academia, too. This system starts by getting things you're worrying over out of your head and onto paper (or the screen) so you can deal with them. After that, it focuses on contexts.

You group things by type of activity (like email, returning a phone call, errands, writing tasks, etc.) If you have 10 minutes, you look at your list of short items, and pick one. When you have longer focused time, you go to that list. There's more to the system than that, but the links below will get you started.
  • Pros: Deals well with different kinds of tasks, and different priorities. Lots of people talking about how they use it makes it easier to find adjustments that work for you.
  • Cons: Takes some time to learn, need regular reviews to keep it working well. As some of the links below point out, it was designed for a time when we didn't always have most tools readily available.
  • Tools: All sorts - check out the links below for some ideas. Basically, you want something that will handle calendar items (meetings) and something that will handle lists, preferably with tagging or another way to identify contexts.


Choosing tools:

There are tons of different tools out there - partly because people want different things. I've found that I need a tool that lets me move items around within a list easily, and one that lets me add an email to my task list. You might need something different!

If you're not sure, try out a couple of free tools, and see what you like and don't like. You might also think about whether you want a task management tool that syncs to your phone or another mobile device, or whether you'll always use it on a particular computer.

Besides the tools linked above, a lot of people use Evernote as a task management tool - we'll be talking about Evernote in a future Thing. If you're fond of lists, you might really like Workflowy.


Further reading


Things to try

1) Spend a few minutes thinking about what you'd like to make easier in your task management life - do you have trouble keeping ahead of appointments? Coming back to email? Tracking projects with many stages?

2) Try out at least one new tool - even if it doesn't do everything for you, it may help with a specific project or part of your life.

3) Leave a comment here talking about which tip in the links you found useful, or a tool you liked exploring.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

14 things: Links for October 17th, 2013

Welcome to today's roundup of a few interesting links. 

Digital privacy: 
We're going to cover some digital privacy issues in more depth later in our 14 Things project, but
Facebook recently rolled out a few more changes in their settings, and that lead to several sites updating their comments on Facebook and privacy.

I like ReadWriteWeb's overview, which explains how a number of settings work, and TechCrunch has an interesting piece about what we should be thinking about in regard to privacy settings.

Useful tools: Lifehacker does a number of roundups, but their overviews of the recommended extensions for Chrome and Firefox might come in handy. (As always, not all of these fit the way I use these web browsers, but I usually find one or two new tricks in any roundup like this.)

Why libraries? Neil Gaiman (a fabulous author) gave a speech recently on why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. It's a fascinating look at why fiction matters, why imagination matters, and why developing the skills to think about not just what is, but what might be, make a difference to society.

Coming next week, Thing 3!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Thing 2 : managing your email

xkcd comic: stick figure discussion communication methods. Follow the link for full transcript.
"Preferred chat system" from Click through to see the whole comic.
Email. We all get it. Sometimes a lot of it. And keeping control of it can be complicated. So, today's Thing is going to look at some different tools and approaches to managing your email. (My links are going to focus on GoogleApps, which is what UMF uses, but of the basics can be applied to other tools. Note that the campus system looks a little different than Gmail for individual use.)


How do you use it? 

  • Lots or less? 100 messages a day takes different tools than 10.
  • Who sends it to you? Mostly the same people, or lots of different people? 
  • What kinds of email? Is it a discussion, general information, part of planning a project? 
  • What do you need to do with it? Emails you need to do something for (tasks) are different than those sent as a quick informational reminder.
  • What do you need later? Gmail has great search options, but if you look at particular messages (from a specific person, about a project) you might want a way to find them quickly.
  • How critical is email to your work? In some jobs, having email up all the time is important - it's how you get information about what's needed. In others (being a student, teaching), you might find scheduled checks work better for you.



Managing email - like a lot of technology questions - is one part choosing how you want to handle it, and one part picking the right tools.

Scheduled checks: If you feel like you never get anything done because you're always answering email, try checking it 3 or 4 set times each day. Reply to anything you need to, create tasks if you need to, and then close your email until the next scheduled time. Some people find they're much more productive if they don't check email first thing in the morning, but wait until they've already done another task or two first. (This doesn't work with my job, but it might with yours.)

Inbox Zero: In 2006, Merlin Mann explained his method of dealing with email overload, Inbox Zero. (His posts about it, and an hour long video talk about it can be found on his website.) In this method, you clear out your email each time you review it, create tasks (in a task management program - see upcoming Things for more) for each task related item, and then archive the email. This makes it much easier to see exactly what you need to deal with.

Filtering: As an approach (how to use them is below), you may find it easier to keep track of email if you filter some of them into separate folders. For example, I filter business offers, and only check them when I'm planning to buy something, and I create filters for searches or groupings of email I want to find often.



Keyboard controls: From your email inbox, type a ? to bring up the keyboard controls. These let you sort through email very quickly. I use k (advance to the next message), e (archive) and # (delete) all the time, but there are plenty of others.

Filters automatically sort your email into folders or labels based on how you set them up. You can filter based on an email address, a word in the subject line (like an email list name), a word in the contents, whether something has an attachment, and much more. You can create them by trying a test search, then creating a filter when you get it right, and you manage filters from the settings menu.

Labs has some additional features you can add to your email - you can turn them on by going to the settings icon (the gear), then to settings, then clicking on 'Labs'. I use Auto-advance, canned responses, quick links, and right-side chat. (Quick links is a great way to find specific email threads you refer to all the time.) Note that many of these are experimental and may change or disappear over time.

Extensions and apps: There are tons of extensions and apps to help you manage your email - way too many to go into here, though some of the resources below mention them.

Other needs - also too many to go into here, but we'll be talking about phishing and email security in a future Thing, and also about how to track tasks and to-do items.


Further reading: 

(Some of these posts are several years old, and the specific instructions or features may have changed - you can still use them for inspiration or ideas.)


Give it a try:

1) Read some of the linked reading, and pick at least one new tip to learn. (Try a keyboard command: they're quick and easy to learn.) If it works for you, try another one next week.

2) Keep an eye on your email for a week or two. Are there automated emails you never read and could unsubscribe from? The easiest way to keep on top of your email is to reduce the number you get.

3) Pay attention to the places you find email most frustrating. Try some of the tips above, and if that doesn't work, leave a comment here, and we can help you with some other resources.

4) Have you tried getting to Inbox Zero? Does it work for you? Tell us how you did it or why it helps.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

14 things: links for October 3rd, 2013

Welcome to our roundup of topic links about digital literacy, technology, and related resources, as part of our 14 Things project.

Where'd that resource go?
The shutdown of the US government probably isn't news to you at this point, but you might not have realized that it affects a number of online resources, including census data (from, the Library of Congress websites and catalog, or the ERIC database (articles are still searchable on EBSCO, but links to the site won't work.)

Some further details:
If you need help finding data from a government site, and can't find it, check in with us here at Mantor Library - we'd be glad to look at some alternate sources for you.

In other news: (a few interesting links of the week)
(Got a great link? You can leave a comment here, and we'll see it.)