iBooks, Authoring, Education, and So Forth

A quick note: I had the opportunity to attend the Apple Education event today on behalf of ProfHacker, where I posted my reflections a bit later in the day.

And a bit after that, I appeared on Tech News Today, talking more about the ways that iBooks 2, the iBook Author application, and the other things announced today might (and might not) affect education.

It’s been a whirlwind. Thank goodness I have a quiet weekend planned.


I’m way more pressed for time than I’d like right now, finishing up a bajillion details involved in moving myself and a subset of my stuff across the country for the next ten months, but I want to be sure to take a second to note the absolute awesomeness of Anthologize, the new WordPress 3.0 plugin developed by the One Week | One Tool workshop, sponsored by the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. The plugin is designed to take you from blog to book — or, even better, from many blogs to many kinds of book-like outputs. I’ve only just begun playing with it, but can easily imagine it become a key part of my Intro to Digital Media Studies class, and I can also see its utility in repurposing thematically-linked blog posts in more permanent, more “official” form.

Huge congratulations to the Anthologize team, and I look forward to watching — and participating in — the project’s further development.

Things I Love About Things

I’ve been using Things as my task manager for some time now, both on my desktop and on my iPhone, and have absolutely loved it. It’s clean, super-functional, and generally trouble-free.

But then last week I found something even better to love about it. It allows you to set recurring tasks, of course — all decent task managers do. But it allows you to set those tasks pegged not just to a certain fixed span of time, but to a certain time frame since the last time you did the task. Which is excellent for those tasks you really need to do more frequently but tend to stall a bit on.

Say, for instance, you need to clean out the litterbox, and you want to do it every other day. For the sake of argument. If you’ve got a regular recurrent every-other-day task set up, and then you don’t clean out the litterbox on the first day the task appears in your to-do list, but do manage to clean it out the next day, you run the risk of being annoyed when a second “clean out the litterbox” reminder appears the very next day. In fact, you’re likely just to delete that one and wait for the next one. Not that I have any experience with that.

But if you set the task up with an interval that only begins after completion, and you stall one day on cleaning out the litterbox, the next reminder appears two days later, at the point when the task really needs to be done again.

It’s a small difference, but it’s really changed my relationship to some of my recurrent tasks, and how I respond when they appear in my list for the day’s tasks.

Edit Scrivenings

I finally got a chance at the very end of the MLA to sit down for coffee with Dave Parry, whom I’d tried but failed to catch up with at several earlier moments of the conference. Among the things we talked about (writing in public, digital scholarly publishing, etc.) was a brief bit of chat about our preferred writing technologies. Dave asked what I’m composing Planned Obsolescence in, and I told him that my initial chapter structures generally get put together as a massive text-editor brain dump, which at some point I import into Pages for finer writing and editing.

Dave mentioned doing a lot of writing in Scrivener, a drafting program I’d written about experimenting with some time back. The conversation made me ask myself why I’d decided not to draft in Scrivener, given how excited I remain about the package — and I never really came up with a good answer.

So I took a morning and imported the draft as it stood into a Scrivener document (or a “binder,” in fact, a cluster of documents and snippets that are working toward a draft), to see whether the interface might actually provide some benefits for the project as it stands.

screenshot from scrivenings

Thus far, it has: being able to focus in on one section of the text, while maintaining a sense of the relationship between that section and the overall textual structure, works far better for me here than in the endless scrolling word processor window. And, as I mentioned in my last post, given my propensity for writing my way into holes, but my desire to keep writing and fill those holes later, Scrivenings’ annotation tools are quite useful.

Scrivenings is another system, like DEVONthink, that I’m pretty sure I’m not using to the fullest extent of its abilities, as yet, but I’m enjoying the process of figuring out how it can help me envision the structure of a big project, while keeping its bigness from becoming overwhelming.

More Fun with Software

Having blogged my excitement about the public beta of DEVONthink 2, and trying to get myself re-organized for my winter break projects, I spent much of yesterday poking around in my various databases, thinking about how the data I access frequently is organized and trying to imagine better workflows. Over the last year or so, I’ve adopted a number of software packages and systems, and I figured I’d share some of what I’ve been using.

First off, of course, is DEVONthink itself, which I’ve been using to organize my reading notes, pdfs, and other bits of research data. I’ve also, as I noted, been using Bookends as my reference manager; it’s a little costy, but nowhere near so much as EndNote, and far, far friendlier.

This summer, for a whole series of reasons, I found myself getting a little paranoid about data security, and it suddenly occurred to me that not only had I not changed my primary passwords recently enough, but that I was reusing passwords in far too many places. The problem is, though, that I’m far too stupid to be able to remember as many passwords as I’d need to keep things really secure. Enter 1Password, a program that generates strong passwords and securely stores them for you. It also synchronizes beautifully with the iPhone, so that you need never be without that data.

Synchronizing data across computers, however, has been a challenge I’ve been trying to deal with for a while now. For the last several years, I’ve been using ChronoSync to synchronize data between my home machine and my USB drive, and then between my USB drive and my office machine, and so forth. Though ChronoSync is a dream, my system was still mildly awkward — heaven help me if I forget to sync before leaving one machine, or before starting to use the other. MobileMe’s Back to My Mac feature, which allows you to access any of your computers from any other, has gotten me out of a couple of jams, but it’s too slow to be ideal, and it’s not as automated as I’d like.

So yesterday I started tinkering with DropBox, which brings together cloud storage and automatic synchronization across multiple computers. I installed the application and dropped my databases in the dropbox, and then today installed the application on my office machine, which downloaded the contents of my dropbox. Any changes I make on one machine will automatically transfer to the other. (And DropBox uses SSL for all data transport and encrypts all files with AES-256, though the truly paranoid might want to create an encrypted disk image within the dropbox.)

Now to put those databases to work…


I’ve been using DEVONthink for a while now as a means of keeping my research notes organized, and so was happy (much as was Dave) to receive notice today of the public beta of version 2.0 of the software, which I’ve downloaded and begun tinkering with. It’s got a bunch of great new features — not least, tagging — and so I’m quite excited about the possibilities it presents. But that last thought makes me wonder — if you’re using DEVONthink, how do you use it? I’ve got the sneaking sense that I’m not getting anywhere near the mileage out of the software that I might.

(I’ve blogged my use of DEVONthink once before, as it turns out. And I still wish for that DEVONthink/Bookends integration…)


WordPress 2.6, which was released just a few days ago, contains expanded support for versioning of blog posts, allowing an author to see all of the revisions made to a particular post, as well as to compare various versions and to revert to some previous historical state.

This is a fabulous authoring tool, but it’s all resident in the backend: only the author has access to this versioning information. And for most purposes, that’s probably sufficient. But I could imagine a number of uses — in electronic scholarly publishing, for instance — when one might want the readers of a text to have access to a text’s history. Given that the history is already available, I imagine that it’s just a matter of a plugin that accesses the versioning data, organizing and presenting it on the frontend.

If somebody knows of such a plugin already in existence, I’d really like to hear about it. If not, I hope some enterprising developer starts thinking about one…

Technology Updates

Of which there are several:

  • While I was on my last trip (to New Orleans), I discovered that the 12-inch Powerbook G4 that I’ve been attached to for the last three years suddenly had a battery life of about 20 minutes. I’d been planning on replacing it before this summer’s travels anyhow, so I stepped up the timeline a bit, and this Sunday came home from the Apple store with one of these. I’m almost completely, perfectly in love.
  • I’m running a bit of an experiment on that machine, trying to see how long I can go before I’m forced to install anything related to this. I’ve left instructions for those files to open in this; we’ll see how long that works.
  • This weekend, I’m in San Francisco. Yesterday, Bryan Alexander actually managed to convince me to start doing this. I’m as surprised as anyone; I was convinced that this was one of the two recent technologies that I’d never see the value in. (I’ll save the other one for another time.)
  • This morning, I upgraded my system to the new version of this. So far, I really like the look and feel of it, though I’ve got the sense that it’s going to take me a while to find everything.

I think that’s all of them, for now, at least…