I spent most of yesterday working on cutting a 35-page paper down into the 15-20 minute talk I’ll be giving on Friday at a NITLE symposium on collaboration in the digital age, on a panel with Laura and Tim. Usually I find such cutting painful, but I was able to get through it fairly quickly. (That said, I am at the upper end of the time-frame, and if I were asked to whack out another two pages, I’d find it excruciating.)

Last night, I started building the slides to go along with the talk, and the irony was somewhat inescapable, as yesterday’s five years ago today post was in no small part about my skepticism at the announcement of Keynote. Did we really need “a happily Apple-y PowerPoint,” as I put it then, or should the goal really be less PowerPoint in the first place?

My answer today is yes, on both counts, in no small part because Keynote is less than PowerPoint: less bloated, less ugly, less of a pain. I’ve only really started using slides with my talks in the last year, and part of the change for me has been working through a non-sucky way to use them. My slides are simple: black text on a white background, no transitions and only the occasional very plain build. I never treat them as cue cards or, god forbid, a script; except for some quotations I want to call attention to, they never replicate long passages of what I’m saying; they aren’t endless bullet-pointed lists. And as such they’re pretty useless without the talk; they’re more for punctuation, and the occasional illustration, than they are for conveying ideas in any expository sense.

The slides, in effect, are utterly non-necessary, which makes me wonder whether I should bother spending the time on putting them together. I tend to find, though, that they help keep the audience focused on my ideas; the words “social interaction” on the screen can drive home the point of a sentence in a way that no amount of vocal emphasis can really manage.

So five years on: yay, Keynote! But less.


I’ve been taking all my research notes in TextMate for a while now, which, as text editors go, is really way more powerful than what I need. What I like about it, though, is the notion of the “project” — a cluster of text docs that you designate as being somehow related. I have this project called, brilliantly, “notes,” through which I’ve related most of my work-based notes, whether notes on projects, notes from conferences or conference calls, or notes on reading. In the project drawer there are several little folders that group those notes in meaningful ways, and using that drawer, I can open and close whichever of them I need at any given moment. In tabs. That’s the key point: TextMate has tabbed editing windows.

But it’s also got this groovy feature that I’ve been using like crazy in the last few days: completion. Say there’s a word you’ve typed earlier in your document, as you’ve been taking your research notes, and say it’s a word that comes up a lot, and is really annoying to type. Like “antidescriptivism.” Once you’ve typed it once, you can type the first few letters, like “ant,” and then hit the escape key, and TextMate will automatically complete the word with the last word you typed that began with “ant.” But say that the second time I need the word, I actually need “antidescriptivist”? So I complete, I hit backspace and change the “m” to a “t,” and I’m done. Now, the next time I type “ant” and hit escape, TextMate will finish the word with “antidescriptivist,” but if I really wanted “antidescriptivism,” all I have to do is hit escape a second time, to get the second-to-last word I typed that began with “ant.”

This is saving me enormous amounts of time. How much? Enough, I hope, to write this post about it.

Beginning, Again

Amusingly enough, my very last post of 2005 was about the difficulities of beginning a new large-scale project. That project, which I planned on spending my sabbatical with during spring 2006, got somewhat overcome by events, primarily the take-off of planning for MediaCommons. That project, called Archive, is one I hope to return to at some point, but it’s wound up getting even further back-burnered over the course of the year, as I realized that the conference paper I’d written about blogging was in the process of morphing into an article, and that it was threatening the boundaries of article space as well, turning into a full-length project, whether I wanted it to or not.

As it turns out, I’m excited about the blogging project, which I’m thinking of as something book-like but not book-ish, something that will almost certainly live in MediaCommons. But figuring out how to get from the article to the full-scale thing is proving, once again, daunting. Where do I begin?

Last year, Francois asked whether a technical solution might not do the trick, helping me to, as he said, “keep in focus a configuration of an unfolding.” This year, thanks to my friend G., I’ve found such a tool, one that I’m still experimenting with, but that I think might do the trick: Scrivener. The software is still in beta right now, but it’s got some awfully great features designed to help take a writer–of any kind–from a fuzzy notion of some too-complex-to-imagine text to a draft. It produces outline views, corkboard-and-index-card views, draft document views; it can contain research notes and objects alongside but separate from the draft-in-process; it allows for some complex uses of metadata.

I’m in the very early stages of imagining the full project, and I’m quite sure that I’m dead wrong about some key aspect of it as yet, but I think the malleability of Scrivener’s uses of text will allow me the simultaneous flexibility and structure that I need in getting started. Which, I hope, will make the getting started less daunting.

Software I Love Right Now

OmniOutliner Pro, whose praises I’ve sung in the past, and which continues to rock. In conjunction with Joel Schoonmaker’s KGTD scripts, OOPro becomes a fearsome task organizer; on its own, it can help organize even the wonkiest thinking. I drafted a paper in OOPro during the fall, and am currently laying out the outline for a Big Project in it, a project that I’m not at all sure I could visualize without it.

TextWrangler, a richly featured text editor from the folks at BareBones Software. This is the free version of the hallowed BBEdit, and I’ve been using it up a storm, in no small part out of a desire to move as much of my writing as possible out of .doc formats and into .txt, until fancy formatting is actually called for. I’m liking this so much that I’m considering upgrading to BBEdit just to pay for the value I’ve gotten from TextWrangler. All I’d need is one desirable little feature to push me over the upgrade edge.

NeoOffice. Because like vemos, I’d love 2006 to be the year in which I get to escape the clutches of Microsoft entirely. This is one of the primary reasons I’m moving a lot of my writing over to text files (the other being that text editors are generally so much lighter, and given that the point of the writing is usually supposed to be the text rather than the formatting, lighter is better). Yes, there’s an irony in attempting to get off the MS boat in the year in which Apple is going over to Intel processors, but I’m good with irony. Anyhow, NeoOffice is an OS X native port of the OpenOffice project. It doesn’t quite do everything that the MS programs do, and there are apparently some issues with spreadsheet compatibility, but 95% fabulous is pretty darned fabulous.

Adium. An app that I first heard about from AKMA. One client to IM them all; tabbed chat windows; cool interface. Awful alert sounds, but they’re easily changed. And again — one IM client for all your chatting needs.

The overall story is simplication: single clients, lightweight formats, cleaner text. This is thus far the sabbatical of streamlining, and thus far, it’s going well.


So, sure, I read the press releases, and I even wrote about it somewhere that I’m too lazy to go seek out a link for right now, at 2.38 in the bloody morning, so I knew it was coming, but I still want to say that I’m completely over the top freaked OUT by the new Macromedia home page, which gives me a bad case of what Buffy used to call the wiggins.

I think. If someone could explain the wiggins to me, as distinct from the willies, I’d be much appreciative.

Why We Should All Stand in Line to Bear His Children, or at Least to Buy Him a Beer

Ethan J. A. Schoonover has made Kinkless GTD, an OmniOutliner Pro-based Getting Things Done system. It’s gorgeous, and it’s flexible, and it’s comprehensive, and it’s free. And he’s been extraordinarily generous in his response to comments and requests for features.

There are some issues yet to be worked out in the system, but I have every confidence that they will be.

(Not incidentally, I upgraded to OmniOutliner Pro yesterday, in part because of Kinkless GTD, but in part because I wrote last week’s lecture entirely in OO, and found the entire experience mind-expanding.)


Remember the buying spree I had the luxury to go on this summer? A quick recap: under the auspices of a collection of small grants, I got to purchase some new equipment and some software that I’d been meaning to pick up for a while. All has arrived, all is installed, all is in beautiful working order.

Among the software packages I purchased was a copy of Macromedia Studio MX 2004. I had been running a, um, borrowed copy of Studio MX for eons, and knew I needed to make an honest woman of myself, so I happily purchased the full (though academic) version, rather than an upgrade. I installed Studio MX 2004 on July 5.

I’m a little behind on the news, apparently, but the day I left for Hawaii, Macromedia announced the imminent release of Studio 8, with what appear to be some fairly significant changes (not least, the dumping of Freehand, balanced by the inclusion of Contribute). And they’ve simplified their pricing structure, particularly with regard to upgrades: no matter which version you’re upgrading from, you pay the same price. And they’ve included a free-upgrade policy for folks who’ve bought Studio MX 2004 recently.

Recently. Meaning since July 8.


Running Hacks

I hit the treadmill yesterday for my second post-orthotic run, with much the same results as the first: overall, the run felt good; no problems whatsoever with the left foot/ankle/leg; minor complaining from the right foot. So far, so good. I’m having to discipline myself a bit, though, to keep my mileage super-low, to stop well before I’m tired, and to take plentiful rest days, as I’ve been laid off for quite some time. It would be awfully easy to add injury to insult right about now.

So I’m keeping myself amused and motivated by playing around with a series of running hacks, little tools designed to track your progress as a runner in different fashions. Running lends itself quite well both to the obsessive in me (there are many records that can be kept and statistics that can be tracked) and to the part of me that’s always trying to escape obsession, to achieve a more zen-like calm in the midst of chaos, to still the mind and focus on the thump thump thump of the moment.

For the former, my two favorite hacks: David Hays’s Running Log, a multi-sheet Excel workbook that calculates things that even I never thought of tracking. This was originally recommended to me by Dave, just as I was beginning training for the LA Marathon, but for whatever reason, I didn’t fiddle with it much at that point. Somehow it seemed overwhelming to me, almost too much information. Perhaps the enforced restriction of my running now, however, has opened up space for me to test out what’s available here: all of the expected distance and pace trackers, of course, but also a weight tracker, a comparison of actual running with planned running, a record of all your races with times and paces and personal bests, a slew of calculators for paces and times and heart rates and more, and charts and graphs galore.

The second, which Joe emailed me about after I posted about my first post-orthotic run, is a hack of Google Maps that creates a pedometer useful for both finding the mileage of completed runs and planning future runs. From the linked page, click on the “click here if you don’t live in Hoboken” link (unless, of course, you live in Hoboken), use the usual Google Maps double-clicking, dragging, and zooming to zero in on your location, and then click “start recording.” Double-click to set your starting point, and then double-click again at each turn, to mark your course. “Create permalink” or “tinyURL” will allow you to bookmark the results so that you can return to them or create new courses.

All of this of course has me itching to run — and contemplating future goals…


I’ve been on the hunt for some time now for a more adequate tasks manager, something that would enable me to combine the benefits of the digital with the clarity of print-on-paper lists. None of the to-do type things I’ve used have really been adequate, for whatever reason: the tasks aspect of something like iCal or Entourage or Palm Desktop is generally much too constrained; on the positive side, it can link particular tasks to particular days, but the notions of categorizing and prioritizing that these packages use don’t really work for me. (For them to work, I’d need something much more multi-dimensional, something that allows you to indicate both the urgency and the importance of any given task. And I’d need a much more fluid set of categories to work with. iCal is the worst offender, in this regard; I still despise the whole “calendars” instead of “categories” model that the program uses, and to have to associate tasks only with particular calendars is just nuts.)

I’ve poked at a number of other organizing-type software packages, such as StickyBrain and Backpack, but all have seemed more unwieldy than helpful. I wanted something clean but flexible, something that wouldn’t demand high levels of input from me but would just shut up and do what I wanted.

(I attempted to try Burnout Menu as well, but the demo insisted, upon first being fired up, that I had been using it for 28 days, and that I had to buy a license to continue. The license is super cheap, but I was much too annoyed about the failed demo to fork over cash sight unseen. Top that off with the fact that an email to their support address has gone unanswered for two days, and I’m just not biting.)

Anyhow, after GZombie’s post about Scott’s recent use of OmniOutliner, I got a bit curious. My new Powerbook came with OO pre-installed, but I’d never fired it up, being completely uncertain what I’d use it for. I started it up, and here’s the first thing I saw:


That little tickbox next to the open text field is, indeed, a tickbox. Meaning that perhaps this software could be good not just for outlining things that need to get written, but also for organizing all the to-do crap littering my head. And here’s the genius part: because you can create nested lists, and because those nested lists are collapsible, you can set your list up such that you can only see the portion of your tasks that you’re willing or able to work on at any given moment. For instance, I’m at home right now, so I can open my list like this:


I’ve only started tinkering with this, so I’m not sure in the long run how I’m going to like it, but at the moment, I’m sold.


So as I’ve mentioned before, this is the summer I finally get to reap the benefits of having gotten tenure; I’m free to think, to read, to explore as I see fit. The thing about such freedom, though, is that it can be disorienting, particularly for somebody who has spent the last twelve years in a world filled with deadlines and hurdles. The disorientation is somewhat chosen, though; I think I might know what direction I’ll ultimately be headed in, but I don’t want to strike a course prematurely. I want to wander, to figure out what’s out there — to play a bit before setting a new goal.

I’m reading a bunch of crime fiction, and also a bunch of blogs, and I’m sketching out some ideas for a new project in the broadest possible terms. I’ve learned a thing or two about a couple of software packages, and plan on learning more once I get back to California. I’ve got a slew of toys to order, and to play with once they arrive.

All of this is good, but it’s leaving me feeling a bit fuzzy. Unfocused. I’m certain that that’s a good thing, at least in the long term, but right now it just feels weird.