My new laptop came this week and although I’ve only spent a day exploring it, I’ve found several must-haves for your old or new computer that I’d like to share with you.
1. Vista Ultimate: I have 4GB of ram, so I suspect that’s the reason Vista isn’t giving me any trouble yet. It has more security warnings than I’m used to (Are you absolutely, positively, 100% sure that you want us to run firefox.exe?), but beyond that, I’m finding some slick advantages as I go along. Navigating through folders is a bit different and I’m still getting used to it. Otherwise, Vista happily took the 20-30 programs I’ve put on it and the only software it didn’t particularly love was an old version of Adobe Acrobat (6.0?), but it dealt with it. Visually, this OS will please you, or maybe it’s my 17″ glossy wide screen. 🙂
2. Google everything. Google desktop, which automatically came with my computer, allows you to put little gadgets on a sidebar. Mine includes a clock, a slow scroll of news headlines, a small calendar, a slideshow of nature pictures, and a cute little plant that seems to be growing and maybe will bloom some day. All of this stays docked on the side of my computer and windows are able to go over it, so it doesn’t take up screen space when you’re working.
iGoogle is also a must-have. Maybe I’ve been living in a hole, but I usually create my own html home page with links that I use all of the time. iGoogle is a home-page creator that takes just seconds to customize. You can add a gadget that has your yahoo mail in a block that updates as you get new mail so you don’t actually have to go to the yahoo site to read it. You can keep your Netflix Queue within your homepage. Maybe you want CNN headlines, PhD Comics, and a clock that tics along. If you are constantly Wikipedia-ing random information, put a wiki-search bar on your home page. There’s fun slideshows you can include to keep your eyes happy, my favorite being the National Geographic photographs. Weather gadgets show the current conditions, forecast, severe weather alerts, and even a radar (I’ll let you know if I have time to create a better one). Penguins waddle across one of my boxes, occasionally running into each other and turning around. I also included a google maps square so I can find directions in a matter of 1-2 clicks. All of these customized gadgets appear on your own home page and you can see everything you need in one customized view. Beyond your fun main page, you can create tabs that lead to more customized pages, maybe one for work links and another one for your favorite blogs.
3. OneNote 2007: OneNote is a place to organize your notes or random thoughts in your brain that need writing down before it flies out your ear and you never see it again. It came with my Microsoft Office 2007 package (so it may already be sitting on your computer, unused). If you are at all like me in that your life involves lots of pens and little notebooks sitting everywhere for jotting down things that come to mind that you know will leave it as soon as the next thought arrives, OneNote will be your new best friend. If you are one of those people who goes to the grocery store and picks up 2 of the 5 things you were supposed to, then maybe you SHOULD become someone like me who writes things down. I was previously using EverNote, which is a cute little program that allows you to jot things down and most importantly, create check-off lists (one of the great joys in my life is checking things off of a list). OneNote seems to go beyond this though.
This week, on my mind I had several unrelated things such as: make reservations and other arrangements for November wedding I’m in, attend teaching workshops, meet with advisor on paper edits, and find a mesoscale meteorology text book, which are just a few things I’ll use an as example. If I were using EverNote, or simply jotting things down in Word like I used to, these random thoughts would all be listed one after the other in that order. Really though, my random wedding plans belong in the “Personal Notebook” of notes (travel section, specifically), the teaching workshops belong in some sort of professional development notebook, my advisor’s comments and paper edits belong in my school notebook (then in the dissertation tab), and my text book choices can be filed under a notebook started for my new college I’ll be teaching at soon (then under the mesoscale tab). OneNote allows you to categorize your life, that’s the first perk. The second perk is that when I’m reading something online, for example, that I feel like clipping for later use, I just hit the window’s symbol and the ‘s’ key, and suddenly I can mouse a square around my clipping and file it away for later use. I created a sample notebook page for wedding arrangements. I gathered some clips of phone numbers for hotels, maps to the church, rehearsal dinner, hair place, and reception. I could click and drag any of these clips wherever I wanted to on the page and if I wanted to type some thoughts in between these clippings, you just click where you want the text and start typing away.
4. Mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox: Use Thunderbird to read your email (maybe equivalent to Outlook?) and use Firefox to surf the net (its simplicity compared to Microsoft Internet Explorer makes it run faster, the only reason to keep your IE around is to watch Netflix videos online).
5. Zotero (play the tour in this link): This is a reference collection/bibliography creator that will work directly from Firefox. I was previously using EndNote (wow, that’s a lot of “notes”). Zotero is FREE, unlike EndNote, and it is infinitely better, sorry EndNote. Let’s say I’m writing a paper. I start looking for books to reference, so I go to Amazon.com. I find a good book and up in your address bar, a little icon pops up. You click on it, and BAM!, the book, it’s author, copyright info, number of pages, and such are all saved automatically in Zotero. Maybe you want to file this book while you’re still thinking about it, so you click on “Zotero” on the bottom right corner of your internet browser and open up a filing system. I put the book under “References for paper on Fred Flinstone” as well as “Books I should buy”. Then you want to find a journal article on Fred, so you go to your local library page and find an article. The little icon pops up in your address bar, you click on it, and your info is once again automatically saved.
You worry that maybe later you won’t have internet access, so you want to save the .pdf of the article for later use. You save it and Zotero notes where it’s placed on your computer so you can just click on a link later (I haven’t used this feature yet, but it may actually save it in Zotero itself so you don’t have to create a folder for it on your computer).
Okay, now you’re ready to write your paper. You’re typing in Word and at the end of the sentence, “Fred Flinstone was born in 10,000 B.C.,” you want to add a citation. You have already downloaded the plug-in for Zotero into Word, so you simply insert the reference you want to cite and it sticks it at the end of the sentence and starts collecting these references alphabetically in the bibliography at the end of your paper. You can tell it what formatting you’d like for citing and for the bibliography, so it is all done automatically. Thus far with Zotero, I created a folder of all of the books that I physically own. I created subcategories (text books, novels, non-fiction, guides, computer help) and then within the subcategories I created more categories (textbooks– weather, math, physics, chemistry, computers). If there isn’t already a sharing feature, one is being developed. I can then (someday) share this library with friends, say, in my research group who are looking for a book and rather than walk 5 blocks to the library, can see in seconds that I have it on my virtual shelf and can stop by my office and borrow it. Really, just watch the demo/tour. Your jaw will drop. This is a researcher’s dream!
Lastly, I hope you will find the irony in the fact that I’m writing this on my old laptop because my new laptop can’t deal with the 1Mbps of wireless internet that my apartment complex offers. Monday I’m investing in my own cable internet, I hope. Timing is poor because 26,000 undergraduates just moved back to Boulder and will be needing Comcast’s services as well. Frankly, I’m tired of wasting hours of my life trying to load webpages.