Software I’ve Been Trying

First, I’m not a computer geek. I’m an online geek. There’s a big difference. Computer geeks are heroes, for one, because they can bring back my computer from the dead. They can read and write in obscure languages like ASCii and Java. If I asked, one could probably figure out why my HTML code for my labels is not working here.

Online geeks are people who can use the computer, but can’t talk to it or fix it or even know the difference between a motherboard and a wake board. We’re like race car drivers who can’t change their own oil.

Half my friends are fully “online” friends, and I even met my husband online. I get all my entertainment on-screen; I don’t even own a TV. News: internet. Phone: internet. Shopping: internet.

But even so, I don’t know much about software. And of course, the challenge I’ve set myself for this PhD is going to involve a lot of software. I can’t create a digital novel unless I can create digital art, edit film and audio, animate text, and throw it into some order and format that other people can access.

So I’ve started my journey into software exploration (note: I’m running everything on Mac Leopard). So far, I haven’t hit much that involves art, photography, or film. In this first 4 months of my degree I’ve been focused on research and getting back into the academic life, so this initial software briefing is primarily focused on tools for research and writing.

1. Zotero. This is a Firefox add-on that saves references. I can add notes, group references in folders or with tags, create separate libraries for each project, look up books. With just one click I can store a reference directly from a website, rather than typing all the info up in a database or list. More, it will export to Endnote, so that once I’ve collected my references, I can use all of Endnote’s functions to create reference lists for my papers automatically. I love this little piece of freeware.

2. Scrivener (only available for Mac). I’m still in my trial period for this software, but I already plan to purchase it. I love the organizational capacity – I can write sections or chapters and store them separately, yet together. It’s like each one has its own room in a very large house, rather than each having its own separate dwelling (as when you save them all as separate files), or everyone crammed together in one tiny shack (as when they’re all in one file). It has a cool corkboard outlining function for notes, like electronic index cards. I’m sure there are a lot of other functions I haven’t discovered yet, but so far this is working fabulously for my organization and logical progression. Once I get to the novel, with it’s separate but interwoven storylines, this will be a lifesaver.

3. Notebook (only available for Mac). Adore. This is an electronic notebook that allows you to add, delete, and rearrange pages. It has an automatic TOC and several indexing functions. You can add files directly into the notebook pages. You can publish the notebook online for sharing. It’s proven intensely valuable to organizing my notes for the PhD, as well as novel outlining and notes, and my teaching notes. It has a few bugs, but it’s a worthwhile little program that I couldn’t live without.

4. C-maps. This is freeware, a mind-mapping program. I’ve used it for outlining, for putting together a presentation (it has a slideshow function). You can add links and notes, pop-up messages, expandable and collapsible nodes. It’s great for brainstorming and keeping the flow of ideas in a logical order. I think it’s going to be a great tool when I turn to my digital novel and have several storylines that link – or network – in various ways, so that I can see how things are connecting. I haven’t quite figured out all the functions for creating presentations, but I’m sure I’ll work it out eventually.

5. Open Office. I own MS Office, but I won’t even load it on my computer anymore. OO has everything I need, and doesn’t try to trip me up with exclusionary file formats and BS. Free helps (hey, dirt-poor student over here).

Over the next few months, I’m going to be exploring a number of new programs: digital photography processing, graphic programs, film editing, audio editing, digital storytelling platforms, and web building programs. It sounds really daunting to me at the moment. If anyone has any recommendations to throw my way (or would like me to beta test new programs), please throw a link at me!

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