Devices and desires redux

Two hours before I left for two weeks in France, I acquired a new Android tablet.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had purchased his first iPod the day before and decided to take neither his old Android nor his laptop with him.  So it wasn’t until we got to the airport that we each learned that the other was traveling with an entirely new device, and I didn’t realize until we got to Paris that he didn’t have his familiar Android with him. Of course, the reason I didn’t take mine was because I had trouble downloading new books the morning we left, couldn’t update the very old device, and went out and bought the cheapest and most appealing thing I found at the nearest office supply store, which luckily for me was the Google Nexus, which I like a lot.

But there we were, in another country with completely unfamiliar devices.  Not only that, but Google got too smart for us, sensed our location, and connected us to, which wouldn’t  let either of us into our existing Yahoo email accounts for 3 days.  It also decided that the apartment we rented in Paris was my home address and the one we rented in Nice was my work address – though I didn’t find this out until I got home and opened my traffic-monitoring app.

Oh what fun, to be sitting on the terrace of the Pompidou Center staring at a screen instead of the view.  I was trying to appreciate the view, but I was drawn to the screen again and again, deeply anxious, unable to let folks know we had arrived (something I never worried about before ubiquitous connectivity – they  just had to assume I had), cut off from news from home, such as confirmation from the catsitter that she could operate the locks, find the food, that Scarlatti hadn’t escaped, etc. (humans can take care of themselves, the cats have become dependent) . . . . Neither of us could make our device, or Google, see reason.

For some reason, Google relented two days later, for both of us on different devices almost simultaneously, and neither of us had done anything to which we can attribute the change.  We can’t even draw a lesson from this.  Was it the new devices?  Was it the all-powerful, leave-it-to-us Google?  (I won’t go into the rest of the awful Google story, and for the record, I am still excited, in a good way, about the Google sensor-driven car.)

I love the Google Nexus tablet, if I don’t love Google’s mysterious machinations.  It’s light, slim, elegant, a good size to read from (still hard to type on, though much better than a phone).  It survived two weeks without even a screen protector, much less a case.  One of the essential books I downloaded was a detailed guide to the history of the buildings and streets of Paris (Thirza Vallois, Around and About Paris, v.1) so that I could stumble on the streets better even as I learned who had fought over Marguerite de Valois (no relations to Thirza that I know of) in which house.

Of course I had saved restaurant suggestions in Evernote, which is also where I put my own daily notes and photos.  Having Evernote on the phone is great, because after I take a picture, the “share” function on the camera offers two suggestions: email and Evernote. The tablet is a much better workplace for annotating photos in Evernote before I forget what they are, though I did that in the evening, not on the street.  I can type well enough on the phone to add a few clumsy notes in Evernote.

That was a vacation use, but it suggests that the same use of Evernote could be made in photo-based research.  I find that these days, I resent carrying even a laptop, with the extra weight of battery and case, which probably amounts to 10 lbs all told.  The difference between the 3 lbs. total (absolute maximum) of the Google Nexus and the 10 lbs. of the laptop is just astonishing. ( I am astonished at my querulousness, considering that the first machine I ever carried into the field weighed around 40 lbs.  – this was in the late 1980s, when I worked for the World Bank and dragged this monster to several West African countries – but I am nearly 25 years older now.)  Of course, the difference in bulk is a big consideration these days as well – a laptop counts as a whole piece of carry on luggage, while the phone and tablet go in my purse, and the cords go in the carry-on.

I didn’t mean to invest in another Android at this point; I was going to wait and get a Windows 8 tablet and a Windows 8 laptop, since I need a new laptop desperately.  But I am glad I did.  The Nexus allows me to do a certain amount of work-related reading and writing.  I think that the developers of some of the programs I use for PKM will produce Android versions in the not-too-distant future.  I have hopes for Webspiration, for example, which I have just signed up for.  Various kinds of information mapping are key PKM functions for me, and I have high hopes for Webspiration, the corporate and higher-ed version of Inspiration, which has long been around in the education market.  I’ll report on my adventures with this program shortly.

Oh, and I have added a protective cover to the Nexus, which takes away a bit of the fun but none of the function.

Link Roundup #1

western saddle with a lasso on it


   We’re testing out having an occasional link roundup blog post that points to useful articles about productivity tools for academics or pkm in general.

(1) Adobe adds cloud access to Reader app for Android

(2) Microsoft Training Staff to Explain Windows 8 vs. RT Crucial difference, as 8 is backwards compatible with older Windows software and RT is NOT.

(3) 50 Apps That Can Make You More Productive – Author Jill Duffy writes a weekly “Get Organized” column for PC Mag. She has an interesting discussion and then definition of productivity tools:

I review a lot of productivity software, and there are days when I’m not even sure what that classification means anymore. It used to refer primarily to office suites, apps like PowerPoint and Outlook, but now can mean anything from a contact management app to a social networking service. If you can find answers to hard questions quickly from the people who know, hey, that counts as having increased your productivity.

At the heart of all great productivity tools is a solution to a specific problem. Some look toward efficiency, aiming to take an existing product, such as email, and make it easier to use so we waste less time futzing with it. Others seek to silence the noise of the net, bolster collaboration, or unite disparate data.

The 50 programs, mobile apps, plugins, and services in this list are among my favorites for helping anyone be more productive.”

The quote above may not look like it belongs in a link roundup article, but the definition of productivity tools is interesting and may be used for starting a conversation in a later blog post.

(4) DotEPUB allows conversion of web pages to EPUB or MOBI format. The toolbar extension is currently available for Chrome and Firefox.

(5) Technology Speed Dating: Internet Librarian Program Program summary from Sarah Houghton, aka Librarian in Black. Introduces a number of apps, etc. that might be of interest to librarians.

(6) And another program summary from Sarah Houghton – 50 Great Mobile Apps for Libraries, which covers both iOS and Android apps. All the apps are available from the authors’ site.

(7) TabTimes Windows pageTabTimes covers the tablet world with a focus on business use of tablet computers. Lots of news and reviews, and the Windows page has considerable coverage of upcoming Windows 8/RT tablets.

Ilaro app for iPhones “brings research project management, note taking, timeline management, and subject tracking to mobile computing.”

Papers is Now Officially Part of Springer Science + Business Media. Includes a nice description of Papers’ functionality: “Papers radically improved the way researchers handle their scientific literature by centralising search, downloads and organising references and documents in one tool, functioning as a personal library for research. The literature can be cited in the word processing software of choice, and can be shared with colleagues.” It started as a Mac product, and there are now Windows and iOS versions.

Grovo: Tuesday Tool Tip

Grovo is not itself a tool, but provides training videos on many other web tools. Videos are short with simple but effective graphics (Not as simple as Common Craft explanatory videos, but the concepts are similar in many ways).

The topics Grovo covers are a wide variety of web-based tools. Registration for the site is free, though premium subscriptions are available offering more business-oriented tools.The top page lists the most recent courses and the duration of the lessons in that course. The page is a little misleading in that the courses listed are only the most recent ones added to the site and do not give a sense to the newcomer of the broad range of products covered. The top navigation bar includes a link to “Sites” which elsewhere is more descriptively titled “Product Directory”. Next is “Subjects”, and the subjects are Business Tools; Social and Communication; Productivity; Lifestyle; Entertainment; and Internet Basics.

Productivity? Ah, I knew that would get your attention! On the Productivity page there are (as of this writing) 25 topics listed. For each topic, there is at least one and sometimes more “courses”. Each course consists of “lessons”, which are the individual brief videos covering a specific task. Most of the topics are specific web services, but there are some, like “Online Research” that don’t fit this pattern. Topics on the Productivity page include Evernote (19 lessons), IFTTT (6 lessons), Dropbox (28 lessons), Box (35 lessons), Prezi (20 lessons), Slideshare (8 lessons), Google Docs (102 lessons), Google Apps (58 lessons), Firefox (15 lessons), Chrome (12 lessons), and several more.

You can enroll in courses, and after each lesson answer two multiple choice questions. Answer enough questions correctly and get a certificate for the course.

The broad subjects are a little porous, as some tools fit more than one category. So a lot of items are listed on business, social and communication, and productivity, and it is hard to know where they most belong. LinkedIn (78 lessons) is under business and social/communication, as is WordPress (56 lessons). The page for a topic lists the courses and the lessons in each course. Click on the course link and see all the lessons with the duration of the video listed (this is the best place to find how long each video lasts). Many videos are under a minute and almost all under two minutes.

Another feature at the top of each page is “Goals” – basically individual tasks. They have a list of goals, including Create a Blog, Get Started on the Internet, Find a Job, and more. If you select a goal you can personalize it by answering a couple of questions. It then gives you a list of lessons, the course they are in, your progress, and the lesson duration. I did not find the personalized goals particularly useful.

The lessons themselves are surprisingly valuable given how short they are. The ones I watched were informative, with good visuals that help in understanding the steps involved. All the ones I watched told me something I did not know before. It is easy enough to have a page or tab open to Grovo and another to the application, and go back and forth applying the lesson learned to the task, such as improving your LinkedIn profile or creating recipes in IFTTT.

Perhaps most applicable to academia is the course on Online Research, which has four lessons with a total duration of 6:03. The lessons are (1) What is Online Research (1:20), (2) Managing the volume of Online Research Materials (1:49), (3) Gauging the Authority of Online Research Materials (1:23), and (4) Gaining Access to Online Research Materials (1:31). How good is it? It isn’t exactly what I think librarians would produce, but it does get some important points across, such as not all sources are equal and pointing users to their local college or university library.

Premium subscriptions are $9 per month or $99 per year, and offers access to all content. Generally the items that have a cost are the ones aimed at businesses – for example, Expensify for Companies, Facebook Admin, etc. Some of these are useful in academia such as WordPress Posts, and some of the Facebook and Twitter courses. Universities and many nonprofits without a lot of cash to spare need to learn social media too! On the other hand, the site has to have a way of bringing in revenue in order to create and maintain content. Grovo does need to make it clearer which courses are premium content. Adding a $ sign to the icon for the course would help. Currently if you mouse over part of the icon for a course it displays the label “Premium”, but that is difficult to find.

Is this a product specifically geared to academics? No, but many of the tools are ones used in academic workflows. Overall, Grovo can help you better understand and more efficiently use tools you like or suggest possible new tools you have not tried before.


I’m a big picture kind of woman, and tend to deal in big concepts more than details. So I’ve been thinking about the whole issue of PKM and have reached some conclusions, which, being a blogger, I get to share with you. some of these ideas might get further explored in later posts. Knowledge management, personal knowledge management all arose because there is too much information (TMI) in the world. When people think of earlier centuries, they think that a reasonably well-educated person could know all of then-current knowledge. It was never true, though they might have known a good portion of the scholarship in their region of the world, or their subject. Today it is impossible to know but a fraction of the knowledge even in one’s own discipline. I think we have to acknowledge that no matter what tools we have, or what philosophy of knowledge management we follow, WE CAN’T FIX THIS.

It is bad and getting worse every day. The very name of one large company directly involved in the information biz reflects this, “Eventually, they changed the name to Google, originating from a misspelling of the word “googol”, the number one followed by one hundred zeros, which was picked to signify that the search engine wants to provide large quantities of information for people.” (Wikipedia) The same Wikipedia article gives one measure of the scope of the problem: “Google has been estimated to run over one million servers in data centers around the world, and process over one billion search requests and about twenty-four petabytes of user-generated data every day.” Another fact gleaned from Wikipedia – in 2010, 328,259 new book titles and editions were published in the United States. Since I joined LibraryThing in late 2006, I’ve been trying to keep track of the books I read. According to it, I added 135 entries in 2010, for an average of 11.25 books a month, and for society as a whole I’m a heavy reader.

So is it hopeless? Are we just dreaming the impossible dream (as the Man of La Mancha might sing)? Not quite. As knowledge increases, the better the tools (and in a broad sense, tools include the philosophy of pkm one follows, whether it is Getting Things Done or a competing philosophy) the more we have a chance of keeping up with our chosen slice of knowledge. Disciplines fragment into more and more sub-disciplines in order for someone to have a chance at knowing that area of knowledge well. The tools will get better, which inevitably means that more and more of the processing of information is done by machines. For example, intelligent agents will become better and better at filtering out information so that an individual sees what is the most useful to her. The downside may be that machines don’t think, and they don’t feel, and so they may miss just that needed bit of information to make a great intuitive leap, or to catch all the ethical implications of the knowledge presented.

I draw a couple of conclusions from all of this. One is that I feel librarians may become more important but less valued. When there is so much knowledge, there is more than ever the need to have someone on hand who specializes in finding information and in finding the best information. Yet as things are more online and there are more discovery tools, people think their skills at finding information are better than they are.

So I see librarians turning into what I call Knowledge Navigators. Maybe that’s because that is the primary part of my job now as liaison to three academic departments. To me this means an increased role for librarians, but also an increased role for marketing in order to explain, in the most positive terms possible, why people need us.

The other major conclusion I draw is that some version of the Gaia hypothesis may be correct, that all of Earth is one complex, inter-related system. If so, humanity can be looked on as the organism’s brain, and every individual as a brain cell passing along specific information. Therefore, each of us has particular, unique pieces of information that when combined with everyone else, makes up the collective brain. As an image, this leads us to understanding better why learning networks are so important to connect and give us a platform for connecting all our “brain cells” together. (or individual neurons)

On Adopting New Technology

... big computers!It is amazing how many people are aghast when they discover that I have never owned an:

  • ipod / mp3 player
  • iphone / smart phone
  • ipad / tablet computer
  • e-reader
  • gameboy/misc. gaming device

But I’m still “looking”.  I have identified some key features that I want.  I need something robust enough to handle full featured Office products (not lite versions) AND handle Zimbra (my workplace email application).  I don’t think it will be a smart phone… A flip phone answers my text and verbal messaging needs. And yes, gasp (!), I also still have a home phone landline.  I recently checked again with several fire/police officials and they told me that emergency services still use landlines to achieve best response in times of emergency.  So I hang on to that archaic item as well.

E-readers are too single purpose for me, which was also my opinion of ipods, though I am dismayed that sometimes music production companies are not launching CD albums, but just mp3. I still feel like I’m much more likely to lose or ruin mp3 collections through computer/devise crashes than a similar set of CDs.  Likewise, I sigh upon encountering the novellas, pre-quels, in-between series stories that are released as e-read only. That I resolve with desktop reader applications, though reading via my laptop is not in the least ideal.. I confess that I still like paper books (and audio books I play in my car!) best for recreational reading. I simply don’t get the same feeling of comfort and joy being surrounded by computer files of books instead of a library corner with wall to wall copies of my favorite fictional friends. That being said, nothing beats online search ability and organization when it comes to professional reading.

I think this all ties to one of my key tenants for PKM…. if an application doesn’t meet my needs, it is not going to be a priority for me to spend time (or money) with it, no matter how shiny and appealing it is to my gadget-curious mind.  Instead, I read reviews, watch my friends and co-workers to see how they use their gadgets and bide my time for the device that has the features I most desire.  So far, that still appears to be my laptop with wireless connectivity.  This singular focus of device connectivity allows me to spend my time exploring other tools that will help me right now like Microsoft OneNote, mind/concept mapping tools, and, most recently, WordPress, the tool which has allowed me to create this blog/website which you are reading right now.

I’m also a fan of cloud technology and love the ability to sync applications like OneNote  which lives on my work computer with my laptop version  at home. Web-based bookmarking tools like Delicious and Diigo have also given me the freedom to capture and retrieve from any location my list of favorite websites and blogs. Cloud Storage tools like DropBox and SkyDrive save me the effort of carrying thumb drives or emailing files to myself.  New technology often vastly improves my workflow processes.  However, as I tell my students in my Productivity Tools workshop, you must weigh the time involved in learning a new tool and identify what difficulties that tool will solve for your current workflow before taking the new technology plunge.

Devices and Desires

We haven’t mentioned the role of devices in PKM much.   In my case, I want to be able to run my PKM applications, but I also have to have a mobile machine on which I can  demonstrate these programs to other people.   Depending on what your needs are, choosing devices to make PKM more seamless can be both easier and more complicated.

Easier, if you are comfortable entering data using smaller screens and more varied modes:  For example, with a cell phone, you can take a photo of a whiteboard or other record of a meeting and share it directly to Evernote without needing to email it, if you have Evernote on your phone (you should have Evernote on your phone).  That’s simple.  On the other hand, I have big fingers and a medium sized phone, and I am not adept at entering text, so I don’t create many new notes using Evernote on my phone – I have to be desperate.  However, I can enter text well enough to search short strings, so I make good use of lists and contacts that I store in Evernote and look at on my phone.

More complicated, because there are so many choices:   You can spend SO much time obsessing over what to get – or even whether now is the time to replace what you have.  Also, since many of us have institutionally issued machines, what do you get yourself, and when, and why? I think I am the only librarian at Kennesaw State with an Android tablet.  The library has issued iPads to many of my colleagues.  I have asked for a Windows 8 tablet, once the software is out and stable, and there are good tablets that run it.  I like tablets I can actually write on with a stylus, and I want something to replace my current, ancient laptop (4 years, I think, and it must weigh 8 lbs in its case, with cords).  I want OneNote on there, as well as Compendium, which is dialog mapping software, and Personal Brain.

The Android tablet I have is an Entourage Edge, produced by a company which went out of business almost as soon as I bought the machine.  Many of the people who still have these are

Entourage Edge

academics – but there are very few of us.  It has 2 screens, the Android on one side and an ebook reader on which you can also take notes with a stylus on the other side.  It closes up like a book – very sturdy.  It runs a version of Android that’s so old I can’t even remember what it is; the company folded well over a year ago.  It’s a great little device for students and professors alike (you can mark up pdfs on the ereader), so the manufacturer marketed it on Home Shopping Network, bringing it out right after the first iPad.  People thought they were getting a bargain iPad, and then returned it in droves.  So it’s good for reading, taking notes in meetings, and web surfing, but not for productivity.

I have been tempted by the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but have finally, reluctantly, decided I don’t need another Android; though the Edge is ancient, it’s a decent ebook reader, and I’ll keep it for now.  Androids, like iPads, just aren’t productivity machines for me at present, and I do need to have something mobile that will run all this PKM software.  So, I am going to wait and look at the (I hope) cool new tablets that will run Windows 8.  What are you all using, or hoping to use?