Top Ten

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

QS.pngIf I could only have ten applications for my computer these would be the ones I would want. Well not the only ten, but the ten I would most want for my academic work. . .in order. . .sort of. (I didn’t include apps. like The Gimp which I use all the time, but not really for working in Academia.)

  1. Mellel:Perhaps obviously the first program I would want is a Word Processor, and this is my favorite, especially for academic writing. I am not sure how I ever got by without it, and I am forever finding features that other Word Processors don’t have. Not the most intuitive program ever, the learning curve is a bit steeper than some, but this is mostly the fault of other bad applications and learning to do things their way than Mellel being badly made. In fact Mellel is near perfectly made, including the well written instruction manual, the tutorial, and the forum to help make the transition easy. They offer an educational discount.
  2. Quicksilver:Not your usual type of application, and not specifically “academic” but, if someone asked me why they should switch to Mac this would be one of the top reasons. I always have Quicksilver running (configured to launch at start-up) and this program really saves me probably an hour each day. On the most basic level Quicksilver is an application launcher/task manager, which means that I can, with a couple of keyboard strokes (in some case only one) launch or move to any application (no mouse needed). But even more importantly you can use it to send attachtments to people, collect screen captures, eject disks, move documents, copy files, look up words in a dictionary, append notes to a file (in other words I can add a text line to a document without even opening it), and pretty much get anything done you want. Like Mellel this program takes a bit of getting used to, but is more than worth the effort. When I had to reinstall everything on my computer (hard drive problem) this was the first thing I put on. The Apple Blog had a nice set of tutorials that will show you how to get started with Quicksilver. And the most ridiculuos part of this whole thing—this program is free.(For you Windows users out there, you can try Launchy.
  3. TextExpander: This program is ridiculously useful. With this program you can create custom abbreviations. So, for example I was teaching Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried for class. I got tired of typing “The Things They Carried” every time I wanted to name the book in emails, or an assigments, etc. (typing this title takes 22 key strokes). Instead I set up an abbreviation, now when I type “TTTC” (minus the quotes) up pops “The Things They Carried” (minus the quotes). You can set abbreviations for anything, your email address, web sites, phone numbers, dates, or for foreign words (now when I type “differance” up pops differánce, this way I don’t have to stop spell check, or use a special key stroke to get the accent mark). My only complaint about this program is it used to be free, and now it costs $29.95. Still more than worth it.
  4. Net News Wire: Another not strictly “academic” application but . . . I have noticed over the last two years when asked what computer application has made the biggest difference in the way you work, the most common answer, regardless of where people work (in technology, business, academia . . .), has been RSS readers. I am not going to get into here what RSS is, maybe at a later date. But what is does let me do is keep up to date on a long list of blogs (The Chronicle, Wired, Grand Text Auto, about 70 in all), without ever visiting those sites. There are many readers out there, Net News Wire is my favorite, but, it costs $30.00. You can get RSS Owl for free, and it works on Mac, PC and Linux.
  5. Act-On: This isn’t really an application either, but a plugin for (there are similar plugins for those using Thunderbird). I will get into this more in a later post on how I use this, but until I update . . .This plugin lets you sort with a keyboard stroke (no mouse) all of your emails into seperate folders. This makes it easy to manage all of those emails you get from students. I have two folders set up for classes, one called “classes” and one called “students needing a response”. When I get an email I file it into the appropriate folder, and maybe twice a day, check the students needing response folder and email them all back at once, quick easy, and keeps students emails sorted. Like Quicksilver this one is free.
  6. Devon Think. Describing this application is a bit difficult. You know that old commericial about google (or Yahoo) being like herding cats. Well Devon is like herding academic cats. This program manages a searchable database of all the documents, web sites, pieces of information etc. that I encounter and want to be able to reference, search etc. But it does so much more than this, it actually thinks for you . . .yeah, that’s right this program thinks. I will also cover some of the ways I use this program in a later post, but for now you can check out two other articles here and here. They also offer an educational discount. And, the tech support people are great, I was having a bit of trouble with one feature, and they quickly got back and recommended a work-around.
  7. iClip: This is clipboard on steroids. It has oh so many uses. But for academics the one I like best is in grading papers. I often find myself saying the same thing over and over again (and by saying I mean typing, as I type my comments-I find I am much more verbose when I type and faster) I load the comments into the clipboard. As I read the paper I think “this student needs to have an example of how to format a block quote” I press “ ctrl-v and select the desired box. You can load up to ten common comments into the boxes and just select the desired box and the text appears. I is like having ten seperate clipboards, and you can use any one of them at any time.
  8. Bookends or Sente: (These programs work the same I think in the end it is a matter of preference.) A bibliography database on your computer that will format your citations and bibliography for you, never going searching for that reference again. These programs can also search the web to keep you updated on recent publications, and get information from libraries like the library of Congress. There is also Refworks and Endnotes for the PC, but they seem pricey to me, and to not have the same kind of functionality (I have heard many complaints).
  9. skEdit: If you are going to start managing your own websites, or writing HTML you need a good text editor. There are several choices out there (many people use TextWrangler (which is free) or Textmate (which is not)) but I prefer the reasonably priced ($24.95) incredibly well written, lifetime upgrade policy, friendly supported skEdit. It is intutive, and plays well with everything that I use. I use it to update and write all of my coursepages and to compose longer blog entries.
  10. Not really an application but a web site that allows you to get an account for free and collect bookmarks. There are many ways to use this for your classes. The simple one would be to list links for your students, but I also use it to collect links for a lecture allowing people afterwards to go back to the lecture and see the links. You can manage the links with any web browser, or get upgrade your prowess with Cocalicious or Pukka.(Yes the name of the program is pukka, I didn’t name it I just use it.)