Archive for the 1000 reasons the Internet is cool Category

Word continues to fall on the “essential software for my Mac” list.

When it comes to documents with a lot of formatting, I’m using Pages more often.

Other stuff — like blog drafts, for example, or any kind of web content, or notes, or, well, about 75 percent of what I do with words — gets done in TextEdit.

But TextEdit has always annoyed in one way — no word count.  So, when I wonder just how long-winded a proto-blog post might be, I’ve had no choice but to cut and paste into either my blog’s online editor or Word or somewhere else that will count words for me.  And that’s a pain and a memory hog and all the rest.

But today I found out about something called Nanocount.  It’s a little tiny freeware program, written by a chap named Paul Gorman.  (Here’s his website, as delightfully minimalist as his program.)

All Nanocount does is put a little one-inch window (which you can drag on your screen wherever you want) that keeps current on the number of words in whatever TextEdit file you’re currently working on.  You can select the how often it updates (between 2 seconds and 5 minutes), and choose whether to display word count or character count.

Bravo, Mr. Gorman.  Beautiful.

And the final little irony?  Right below the link on MacUpdate I followed to download the program, was a GoogleAd for Office 2008.

Not clicking through that link today. Sorry.  :)

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140 words or less?

I woke up this morning and before I even logged on, I realized I had screwed up yesterday.  I was tempted to lie and say that my reference to the “150 character limit” of Twitter was a typo.   But no one would believe me anyway, and, besides, a mea culpa offered a better blog opportunity.  (Thanks again to Mark for  pointing out the error and demonstrating, again, just how quick error correction happens in the Internet age.)

The error wasn’t a typo.  It simply reflected the fact that I’m not as far along Internet-wise as I need to be.

I got the length limit wrong.  Because while I believe that Twittering demonstrates an essential skill for the flat world, I don’t Twitter much.

Yet.

Because, to be honest, I’m just not very good at it.

Yet.

When you spend most of your adult life acquiring the skills of the verbose, it takes more than a little effort to shorten things up.

For me, learning to speak in bullet points was the first step; learning to reduce things to a page or less in the manner of executive summary was the second.  And now I’m more or less on the third step, learning to write a short email.

And of course, there’s the regular falling off the wagon.  “A few bullets” can quickly explode into several pages in the corned powder of an academic-in-recovery.  The executive summary remains the hardest part of any report for me to write, and write well.  And anyone who reads here knows I have real trouble keeping blog articles under 1000 words.

Too, David’s comments on my last post crystallized something for me.  I’m used to seeing words as making arguments, as existing for persuade.  And persuasion of an educated person should only take place after the presentation of evidence.  And presenting evidence within 140 words is hard enough.  In 140 words?

But “persuasion” is more than argument.  Persuasion is also becoming interested, being provoked into thinking differently.  And those parts of the process ought not to be focused on evidence.  In fact, are less productive if they are.

Entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity….these things come about because people refuse to worry constantly about the “can’ts” and the “what if’s” and the “what about’s”?  Because they only insist on evidence at particular parts of the process.

So  back to Twitter…well, can I just say it scares me and leave it at that?

No?  Crap.

You’re right.  I can’t.  And neither can you.  Because, and I can guarantee that 90+% (probably 99+%) of academics are going to disagree, being able to Tweet well is at least as important a thinking skill as being able to write a term paper.

No, I’ll go farther.  It’s a more important thinking skill.

Writing term papers, writing reports — those are skills of an entry-level tiny-cubicle employee.  One with no more career upside than Milton Waddams in Office Space.

Tweeting?  Tweeting is a skill of project managers.

No, of CEOs.  CEOs have to be good at weighing evidence, of course.  But they also have to be good at seeing opportunities and judging well in the absence of evidence.

And in a world of constant technological and cultural change, where three strategic moves have to be made before evidence on one is in, it’s a skill more valuable than ever.

Much as I enjoyed Stephen Root in his role as Milton, I’ll give you one guess whether I think we should be emulating his approach to skill development.

So, excuse me.  I’ve got to cut things short.

I’ve got to go follow some CEO tweets and see if I can figure out how they do it.

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“Traditionally in Mind Mapping, the branches are read from 12 o’clock clockwise, so for the moment, we will assume this is the way we want them organized.”
– from NovaMind “Tutorial 4 — Arranging and coloring your Mind Map.”

Mind-mapping software, to my mind, resides near the top of the “1000 cool things about the Internet age.” It has come to the point that were I forced to give up either my word-processor or mind-mapping software, I’d give up the word-processor.

Most of what I use Word for now I can do fairly easily with just a text editor and the ability to Google for the appropriate HTML tag. In fact, much of the time now I do. Right now I have seven TextEdit documents open, and zero Word documents.

But it’s a rare day indeed when I don’t have one or more mind-map files open. Right now, it’s three files using NovaMind and one using MindManager. (It’s still early. By the end of the day, I’ll probably have twice that.)

The reasons I use mind-mapping software so much are legion, far too many to go into in a blog entry, even one of the length I usually put out.

[Advertisement: Stay tuned, though. Iterative Listening should be releasing a special report on the value of mind-mapping before this month ends. And I hope to follow it with a more extensive e-book sometime next year.]

But I do want to talk about one of the cool biggies that differentiates mind-mapping software from word-processing software. I don’t know why — whether it is because it is mature technology with close to 30 years of development and tweaking behind it, or because both its developers and users tend to be hardwired with the same 20th-century ways of thinking — but word-processors have a pretty annoying learning process associated with them.

Think of it this way — how many times over the years have you been frustrated by your word processor because you want to do something (perhaps some kind of formatting) and you can’t figure out how to do it without a bit of slogging through menus and help files and WordForDummies books? That in fact is how we always approach our word processor: we already know we want to do X in Y way.

Now, that’s sometimes the case with mind-mapping, too. Otherwise, you wouldn’t see a sentence like the one quoted above from a NovaMind tutorial. Most mind-map programs are like NovaMind are indeed set up to portray your thinking in this clockwise fashion.

However, notwithstanding such “default” features of the software, which you would think would encourage users to find and conform to “usual” ways of thinking, mapping software enables exactly the opposite. There is hardly a week goes by that I don’t discover a new situation in which the software can be used or a new way to use the software in a particular kind of situation.

Here’s a partial list of the possible uses of mind-mapping for business copywriters, for example: brainstorming a new project; fleshing out the picture of a prospect; outlining a letter; managing an ongoing project; making a presentation to a client. And within each of these areas, you get an amazing increase in flexibility for “how to do things”, flexibility that doesn’t distract you from the projects at hand but instead speeds things up.

Take me.

When I first started with mapping software, it was as a brainstorming tool. Then I discovered that Inspiration (the first mapping program I used, and still one I use for a lot of different projects) allows you to toggle between “diagram” and “outline” mode, and soon I was using the tool to prepare lecture outlines. This morphed into a way of putting together syllabi for new courses.

Then I started finding different ways of linking — to other maps, to non-map files like pdfs, jpgs, and docs, to the Web. Now complicated projects like the Technology and Education book or a major marketing presentation use multiple maps, linked in all sorts of ways.

I use mapping to do a ten-minute SixHats exercise. Or ust to jot down three or four semi-connected ideas on a project I’m not going to be working on for some time — I don’t really want to be distracted from the work at hand, but I also don’t want to lose those ideas in the the interim. And in no more time than it takes to write a post-it note, I’ve created and saved a mini map of connections for future reference, and then I’m back to the day’s main tasks. (Since starting this blog entry, I’ve added two of those post-it-note equivalents.)

I’m using the collaborative potential of web-based mapping via programs like MindMeister. And in the last two weeks, I’ve discovered new ways of organizing notes to projects (Curio), tracking the progress on a project (both NovaMind and MindManager), and ways of making presentations that will knock the socks off those tired and boring Powerpoint things (using either NovaMind or Curio). I’ve always felt a bit guilty that I haven’t mastered more of Powerpoint. But I don’t think I’m going to bother. Powerpoint looks to be less important than Word now.

Oh, I still don’t know why so many people (and software developers) want the default of maps to proceed in that clockwise direction. But since it’s pretty easy on almost all of the programs to re-arrange map branches as I want them, I don’t think I’ll worry about it much.

I’m too busy having new ideas and discovering ways to develop them.

Like clockwork, even.

Vroom.

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Slashdot?  What’s that?

Most of my offline friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have never heard of Slashdot.  Heck, my guess is that a majority of my online contacts haven’t either.

That’s too bad, because despite its “News for Nerds” masthead, Slashdot offers to anyone who visits, nerd or non-nerd, an excellent opportunity to reap the value of a a listening mindset.

In fact, for most visitors, nerd or otherwise, Slashdot (abbreviated /.) is going to have its greatest value only to the extent that the visitor enters with that listening mindset.

Look, I like talking.  This blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t.  But I very rarely post to /. discussions.  Not because I don’t have anything I want to say –  go to /. and within 5 minutes I’m probably muttering to myself — but I find it impossible to effectively post there.

Oh, it isn’t truly impossible.  However, given the way /. works, together with the way *I* work, it makes very little sense for me to post very often.  Because I’ve never paid for a /. “subscription,” and because I don’t set my /. up in a way to immediately notify me of stories, and because I don’t typically find myself reading a /. thread until it has been online for at least 6 hours, or even a couple days, my first opportunity to post on a thread comes at a moment when the thread already has a few hundred entries on a couple dozen sub-threads.  Add in the moderation system that assigns a score to each post, and each user’s ability to screen posts based on score, and it’s pretty darn likely that any post I add is going to disappear unseen and, worse, uncommented upon.

And since I’d be posting primarily because of a hope that someone might listen … well, I’m just not going to post very often.

This used to annoy me.  But it doesn’t anymore.

Why not?  Because at some point I realized just how many people there were on /. who had something to offer me if I just went on and listened.  My inability to post there isn’t a weakness.  It’s a strength.

The thread titled “Give Up the Fight for Personal Privacy,” is, to my mind, a perfect case in point.  Because of my personal intellectual, epistemological, and ideological interests, and because of my deep seated fears for my own privacy and the ability of states and organizations and assorted scum-bags to invade it, I pay a lot of attention to privacy issues.  I expect I know more about privacy and its infringement than most people.  I would go so far as to say my knowledge of the potential for privacy invasion is greater than that of 90 percent of the individuals I know.

But, this /. thread makes it clear that, despite all that interest of mine, I’m still a piker.  What I know may be huge, as compared to what my mother knows or my reading group pals know or my teaching colleagues know.  But it’s tiny compared to what I don’t know.

Unfortunately, if you want to know what I mean you’re going to have to read a big chunk of the thread.  And that means a few minutes of your time.  When I started writing this blog entry, this /. thread on privacy already had 565 comments. By the time I finish this article, post it on Iterations, and you read it, who knows how long the /. thread will have become.

Because, I’m sorry, but I can’t summarize the thread for you.  I couldn’t even if I had read the whole thing. (I’m only about 30% through the thread right now.)   That’s part of the point you see.     Read a /. thread on a topic of interest to you, and you hear a lot of really smart people out there with a lot of different perspectives on the topic.  Perspectives that cannot easily be reduced to this or that interest or ideology.

Listen to your average television panel yakking about privacy,  or attend an academic conference session devoted to the subject, and it’s pretty easy to line people and ideas up, and place them into nice and neat categories.  But read a /. thread on the topic and you simply cannot do the same.

Oh you’ll see a number of trolls and knuckleheads (especially if, as I do, you set your reading threshold to admit all posts, even those with a score of -1).  But you’ll also see lots of really smart people making very good points that you cannot make consistent with each other.   You’ll find yourself realizing, over and over again, that even the bits you thought you had figured out already aren’t quite as obvious as they used to be.

At least I do.

And that’s why I try to find room to read at least one big chunk of a /. thread several times a week.  Each chunk may take me 15-20 minutes, or more, to work my way through.  But I find it’s invariably going to be 15-20 minutes well spent.  I’ve been visiting /.  for a couple years now, and I’ve *never* been disappointed with the chunks I’ve decided to spend 15-20 minutes with.

Even if it’s abbreviation weren’t so cool, Slashdot belongs on the “1000 cool things” list.

News for listeners.

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Sigh.

One of the annoying parts of the Internet age is that good things can disappear without any warning.  All it takes is a webpage revision.

One of my favorite web locations over the years has been LaissezFaire Books.  I haven’t visited it for several months, but that’s only because my cash inflow took a serious hit when I started an unpaid year-long leave from my teaching gig last year.  For a free-marketer like me, whose interest in markets is scholarly as well as everyday, LaissezFaire Books was always a wonderful adventure.  Even if I went just looking for one book, I invariably would buy several whenever I visited.  I rarely spent just five minutes on the site.  It was usually a solid hour or more.

So imagine my chagrin a few days ago when, inspired by Bill Greene’s comment here and by a visit to his website here, I paid a visit to LFB’s website at http://lfb.org.  Apparently, LFB has been purchased by an organization called the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL).

Now I have absolutely nothing against ISIL.  Indeed, I suspect that when I dig a bit farther, I will find myself very much simpatico with ISIL’s goals, aspirations, and activities.

If I dig farther, that is.  For, to tell the truth, I find myself curiously disinclined to doing so.

Because even though I am an educator and a free marketer/libertarian/individualist anarchist, and so presumptively interested in “educational projects” that “spread the message of liberty”, that wasn’t what I went to Laissez Faire Books for.

I went to Laissez Faire Books because it did one thing very, very well, and its website focused 99 percent of its effort on that one thing.  It provided a place where people like me could find, and find easily, a lot of books on “liberty and free markets”, without being distracted by anything else.

I expect anything I could get at LFB I could get through Amazon, but I still used LFB because, unlike Amazon, it didn’t require me to sort through certain kinds of chaff written by those who purported to be friends of liberty (Congresscritters, New York Times journalists, and the like) who were anything but.  I didn’t consider everything LFB published to be worth reading, but I knew that everything LFB published would truly be centered on liberty and freedom.

But while LFB’s URL is still there, the web shop I loved appears to have disappeared.  The landing page ISIL has there now tells me they will be offering a larger selection of titles, but right now, it looks like they are not offering much of anything.  Oh, there’s a link to “current specials on books we are offering” that allows you to open a PDF of Volume 1, No. 1 of Laissez-Faire News and Review, and in that there’s a procedure for ordering books via a very clunky process of email and PayPal.

But it’s a serious step in the wrong direction.

Look, I understand that transition of ownership means there are probably lots of things that need to be worked out.  But had the people at LFB and ISIL been approaching this the way you would expect them to, the transition would have been a lot more seamless. Because, as much as I liked the old LFB, it was never the only place to buy books on liberty.  It was the easiest, and to my mind, the best.  And I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out if there was a better place to go.  I didn’t have to.

But, LFB/ISIL, you’ve just made my task more difficult than it used to be.  I read a lot of editorial comment on a daily basis, and I enjoy reading pro-liberty editorializing, but not when I’m strolling the aisles of a bookstore.  I’m interested in activity to educate and promote liberty, but not when I’m strolling the aisles of a bookstore. When I’m in a bookstore, I’m looking for interesting books, and I don’t want that other stuff yelling in my ear and making my book-buying decisions harder to concentrate on.

ISIL, you’re marketing badly. People who type in http://lfb.org are doing so because they are already well-qualified book-buying prospects.   Sell them books, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t greet them with an invitation to go to the prom.  They aren’t in prom-going mode.

Make our jobs as book buyers easier, not more difficult.  Because I can guarantee that it isn’t just Steve Bezos and Amazon out there who are concentrating on making it easier to buy books.  And I can guarantee that lovers of liberty are no more interested in having their book-buying made more difficult than anyone else.

If we wanted our lives made more difficult, we’d be lobbying for government “help”.  Not buying books on liberty.

I have no idea why the old LFB is gone.  And maybe this change offered the best overall solution to some business or financial problems LFB was having.  Or maybe what I valued from LFB is not what others valued.

The only thing I know is that I’m going to be looking for book buying alternatives, alternatives that, had I not visited your new, buyer-unfriendly, landing page, I wouldn’t have known I needed

And, because I believe in markets, I have to believe I’m going to find a replacement.

And it’s the replacement that will get to go to the prom.

Sigh.

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News from the alternate universe.  This definitely belongs on the “1000 cool things…” list.

Australian company launches 3D Internet tool (Update) from PhysOrg.com

An Australian company on Thursday launched a free tool it says offers web browsers a world-first opportunity to view the Internet in three dimensions.

[...]

Also belonging on the list in the “alternate universe” sub-category is the website whose newsletter let me know about this new 3D tool, www.kurzweilai.net.

Kansas is definitely going bye-bye.

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Here’s a little test:  What’s going on on your desktop right now?

Here’s mine, as of the time I was writing this entry:

On the computer:  besides writing this blog, I’ve got my email open and one message started, a MindMeister map being edited, five more browser tabs, an old Inspiration mindmap, three TextEdit documents in various stages of completion, my Omnifocus project list being edited.  And in the last 20 minutes or so I’ve sent off 4 article links to various people.  And I’ve managed to reduce the unread items in my RSS feeder to 19…er, sorry, that just refreshed.  It’s now 49 unread items.

And of course there’s the offline stuff.  Forget the unscheduled interruptions from the other occupants of the house, which no one can avoid.  I’m writing checks (and making sure I have the bucks in the account to cover them), I’ve got a “don’t forget” list for tomorrow’s road trip to southwest Iowa for fine cuisine, two magazines, no wait, four magazines, and three books open.  And somewhere, I imagine, there’s the newspaper I picked up off the porch at 5 a.m.

Yes, it is safe to say that I suffer from what the author of the blog Rands in Repose five years ago, labelled Nerds Attention Deficiency Disorder.  (Here’s the blog entry.  Read it and the comments.  It’s fascinating stuff, and like much stuff about the Internet, both troubling and exciting.)

I don’t want to minimize the problems of ADD.  I’ve seen both friends and students who have it, and it can be utterly disabling.  But reading the RinR article, I wonder whether there’s something else going on out there with other people.

I’m thinking in particular of the tendency of teachers and employers and parents and assorted old farts like me to talk about young people’s laziness and lack of anything approaching a meaningful attention span.   I’m wondering how often we old farts see laziness and/or zero attention span, and what’s really happening is NADD in action.  That a lot of the people we are chastising for failing to follow our rules and doing what we want them to do the way we want them to do it are actually being very, very productive and hard-working indeed.

That’s one of the reason I encourage you to read not just the original RinR entry about NADD, but all the hundred or so comments thereto.  Because if you look at the people commenting, what you see is a bunch of really smart people getting a lot of stuff done.  In short, not low productivity, but very high productivity.  A good thing.  A really good thing.

I’m wondering, instead of trying to instill traditional notions of “attention!” in our students, whether we should be figuring out how to spread the NADD disorder.  Might it be a necessary skill set for the 21st century?

I’m not yet ready to add NADD to the “1000 Cool Things” list.  But I’m tempted.

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Can you tell from these recent posts that I’ve been trying to ramp up my time devoted to websurfing?

For a lot of reasons, I’ve been trying to bring my understanding of the processes and institutions of information flow into the 21st century.  I realized a while back that if I’m going to continue to call myself “the listening PhD,” I needed to bring my understanding of online information flows to a PhD level.  And that’d be no small task since my technical competence re: matters of the Internet was then at a grade school level.

So, over the last 18 months or so I’ve been working at simultaneously trying to accumulate and shoehorn information found via surfing, blogging, reading, emailing, and subscribing, at the same time as I’ve been frantically searching for technological ways of quickly acquiring, filtering, and processing the piles and piles of information.  I don’t need PhD level techie skills, but I do need college-freshman-level skills.  And sooner rather than later.

It’s been a very frustrating process, for a couple reasons.  The big one, of course, is the one faced by all ignoramuses — the inability to even identify the proper questions to ask.  But even when I found a good question to ask, I couldn’t wade through the techie talk to figure out how to answer the question.

If a younger reader is looking for a field to go into, or an older one looking to switch, and enjoys working with words, can I recommend “technical writing”? This market has to be huge — there is certainly a profound need for people who can translate tech speak into everyday language for people who lack PhD level tech sophistication.

That’s another reason why the Demo Girl, which I just posted about yesterday or the day before, made it to my list of 1000 cool things.

And it’s why today’s link, to The Common Craft Show, is being added.

We all know about the Dummies books and the Idiots’ guides.  But the people at Common Craft do things one better with their quick little, no frills intros “in plain english” to many basic technologies.   Intros that do two things all the technobabble never manages to accomplish: they, on an everyday and personal level, show you just how revolutionary something like a wiki is; AND then they show you how to start realizing real benefits from that revolution.  And they manage both in, literally, just a few minutes.

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How long do you suppose it’ll be before I’ve actually added 1000 or so distinct things to this category?  I’m betting that it’ll be well before the end of 2009. Don’t be surprised if these “1000 things” postings become even shorter, and list several links at a time before all is said and done.

Today, for example. I have two additions to the list.

1.  MindMeister.

The first is an online mindmapping and collaboration tool named MindMeister, which can be found at http://www.mindmeister.com/.  I’ve been working with idea- and mind-mapping software for some time now.  I’ve dabbled with Tinderbox, Mindmanager, and OmniGraffle.  And I expect I’d probably be considered a power user of Inspiration.

I’ve barely toyed with MindMeister yet, but I have a feeling I may be moving most of my mapping work over to MindMeister.  Inspiration still has a couple features (their “RapidFire” entry button, the ability to toggle between diagram and outline modes) that mean I’ll still be using that ol’ reliable a fair amount, but MindMeister has an interface that looks as simple as Inspiration’s and does a couple things I haven’t seen any other program do:  it works online and, most importantly, it allows for much easier (and simultaneous) collaboration.

Whether you’ve been exposed to mind-mapping as a device for brainstorming, project management, pedagogy, or research, or whether you’ve never even heard of mind-mapping software before, check it out.

2.  The Demo Girl.

The second addition is found at http://demogirl.com.  The Demo Girl is a woman named Molly McDonald who puts together screencasts, those little demonstration videos you see showing how a piece of software works.  I discovered this site because I followed the URL the Demo Girl provided in the the demonstration video she did (and that I just watched) for MindMeister.

The link takes you to her blog.  And, if you’re like me, a quick scroll down through her recent entries will reveal a lot of cool stuff you probably never heard of.  The kind of stuff that, for me at least, provokes the response, “You can do that?  I want to do that…and that…and that.”

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Okay, here’s another link for the “1000 reasons the Internet is cool” list:  http://www.samizdata.net/.

But I warn you.  If your friends, family, neighbors, bosses, fellow employees, or the guy on the barstool next to you find out you hang out here … well, I’m pretty sure they’re going to be shaking their heads at you before long.

And as for what the Department of H***land S******y might think?  Well, if you aren’t already worried about what DHS might be thinking about you, then you aren’t thinking enough.

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