Buzzam, a Modern Approach to Radio

Since this blog has slowly evolved into focusing more on technology and academia (and likely going to undergo a complete ‘rebranding’ in that direction), I thought I’d take a quick second to plug a really cool sounding service called Buzzam. Not only do they probably have the coolest domain name (Buzz.am – I mean how many companies, other than url shorteners, have their name incorporated across the entire url?), but they also have a really unique idea. Basically, they’re taking radio broadcasts and turning them into “narrowcasts.” What does that mean? It means that you get a personalized radio stream, something kind of like Pandora, but incorporated into it are things you’d get from a regular radio station. The big difference is you get to decide what goes in with your music (or news, etc.). Here’s a few examples:

  • When you wake up you probably want to know what the weather is so Buzzam tells it to you.
  • When you’re at work you already know what the weather is, since Buzzam is location aware, so it won’t be narrowcasted.
  • Going for a jog? Well that’s probably not time for Sarah Mclachlan but Foster the People. Buzzam takes care of that.

I think there are countless possibilities for this and find the “location aware” to be most intriguing. I have no idea how all this works, but am excited to see it in action. If you’re interested, check out their site Buzz.am and you can sign up for a free month of premium access. Also, they’ve got a nice video of the service in action my above examples weren’t clear enough.

My Papers to Sente Workflow

In a previous post I discussed two great programs, Third Street Software’s Sente & Mekentosj’s Papers, for managing your bibliographic data on Mac computers. Papers, in my view, is much better at finding references and PDFs but Sente is great at getting those references into your documents. I love having both, but if you can only buy one program I would recommend Sente. It has the added functionality of document citation and allows you to find references too, I just don’t think it’s as enjoyable to use as Papers. The setup below allows me to use the best features of each program and really enhances my personal research.

Since I have three Macs that I use regularly (my primary computer is a MacBook Pro, but I also borrow my wife’s iMac on occasion and have a Mac Mini at work) it’s important that I not only keep Sente and Papers in sync with each other, but also keep those two programs in sync on three different computers. Thankfully this isn’t all that hard to do.

The setup below assumes that you prefer using Papers as a reference finder basically just want to use Sente to cite those references. If that’s not the case, then there is probably an easier way to sync the two.

Step One: Sign up for a Dropbox Account

[If you already have a Dropbox account, skip to Step Two. If you only have one computer this is optional, though still highly recommended since you’ll essentially have an off-site backup of all your references.]

After you sign up for an account you’ll download the Dropbox application. This will install a folder on your computer and anything you put in that folder will be seamlessly synced to any other computers where you do the same. It’s quite amazing how well this program works. It’s also free for up to 2GB of data (if you use this link we’ll both get an extra 250MB worth of space).

Dropbox will create a new folder called “Dropbox.” You get to choose where you want that folder to be located so I’d pick a place that’s easy to navigate to. Regardless where you put it, just remember the location.

Step Two: Move your Papers Folder to the Dropbox Folder

All the files that Papers uses are conveniently located in one single folder called “Papers” (unless you changed it to something else when you installed the program). Move that folder into the newly created Dropbox folder. The next time you run Papers it won’t be able to find the files that it needs, but it’s relatively straight forward to select the new location within the Dropbox folder. Once you’ve done that you can continue to use Papers just like you did before. Repeat this process on any other computers you use and you’ll always have the exact same reference library on each machine.

If you have the basic (i.e. free) Dropbox account you only get 2GB worth of data to sync. Some may be worried that having your entire reference library will take up too much space. That may be true for some people, but to give you an idea of what to expect I have over 400 references from my Papers library, all my dissertation files, and four years worth of class files and I’ve only used just over 30% of that 2GB. (That will continue to grow, but Dropbox has a generous referall program – see link above – that allows for up to 10GB for free. If you need more than 10GB of data then you can buy additional space at a fair price.)

There is one more thing you’ll need to do before we move on. In Papers create a “Smart Collection” with some specific rules. All you need to do is select ‘File’ then ‘New Smart Collection’. From the popup window select “Date of Import” for the first dropdown menu, “After” for the second menu, and then type today’s date in the third box. Any references you find on or after that date will automatically be added to that smart collection (we’ll change that date later on, but today’s date is fine for now).

Step Three: Set up Sente to Work with Your Papers References

What I want between the two programs is for each to always have the exact same references on all three computers. If you’ve been using Sente and Papers together already, then you’ll need to figure out a way to merge the two into one. I didn’t want to mess with that hassle and just created a brand new library within Sente. That may not be an option for you if you have two significantly different sets of references. Merging the two goes beyond this guide so once you get that figured out, come back and see how to keep them in sync.

One of the advantages of Sente over Papers is that it has built in syncing for your files and references. So if all you are using is Sente you don’t even have to bother with Dropbox because the program itself will automatically stay in sync with your other computers. The downside to using the built in syncing with this setup is that you’ll end up with two copies of each PDF. If that’s something you want to avoid then you can tell Sente to only link to PDF files and not copy or move. That’s what I’ve done.

To set it up just open Sente, go to the preferences pane, and select ‘Attachments’. Choose to ‘Link to the file where it is’ and then close the preferences pane. When it’s time to get the Papers data over to the Sente program all the bibliographic data from Papers will be copied over, but the PDFs will stay where they are.

To keep that bibliographic data in sync across multiple computers you’ll also need to turn Syncing on within Sente. This can be done in the preference pane, but for more detailed instructions I suggest visiting their website. (It is very easy to do.)

Step Four: Finding New References

Now is the fun part. Open Papers and find new references and PDFs. When you’re ready to start citing them in your word processor (or just want to have these new references in Sente) select the smart collection you created in Step Two (I called mine ‘Transfer’ just to make it easy to find) and then go to ‘File’, ‘Export’, ‘EndNote XML Library’. A popup window will appear. In the first dropdown menu select “Selected Group” and in the second “Endnote 8 or higher.” Give the export a name and save the file to a place easy to find.

Next, right click on the smart collection from Step Two and change the date to the current date (this will prevent you from getting duplicate references in Sente). For example, if you’ve been adding references to Papers for two weeks, then the smart collection will only pick out the references you added within those two weeks. After you export them to Sente you don’t want to export them a second time so just change the date in the smart collection rule to the current (or next) day. The next time your export your references you won’t have any duplicates.

Step Five: Importing Your Files

Open the Sente library you created in Step Three and select ‘File’, ‘Import’. Navigate to the file you saved in Step Four and click ‘Open’. Now all the references you had in Papers are now in Sente along with links to the associated PDFs. Sente will take care of syncing each computer’s references on its own and the Papers references are kept in sync via Dropbox. Additionally, because Sente is only linking to the files in your Dropbox folder you’re not getting two of every PDF file.

A Caveat

All things are not perfect and neither is this. If you have more than one computer and the Home Folder does not have the same name on each computer then Sente will not be able to locate the “linked to” files on the additional computers you set up. You have two options: change the name of your Home Folders to match or copy the PDF files instead of linking to them. Doing the first is cumbersome, but not difficult if you follow these detailed instructions. (Please do a quick Google search about changing the name of your Home Folder before engaging in this task. I’ve had no problems with this, but would feel bad if you did and I didn’t warn you.) The second avoids this process but you do end up with either multiple copies of each PDF (if Sente copies the files) or no PDFs for Papers (if Sente moves the files). Since I like to read my PDFs in Papers because of its outstanding PDF reader, I decided to just make my Home Folders match and haven’t had any issues with it at all. (Occasionally you may have to update where a program thinks it’s files are since it’ll look for them under the old Home Folder name. It takes 2 seconds to navigate to the new folder so that wasn’t a big deal for me.)

Conclusions

I hope that this makes your academic research easier. It’s only a small amount of work to set up, but once you have it will truly revolutionize your work flow. I simply love being able to sit down at any computer I own and know that I have all my references and PDFs and any new ones I find at that computer will be accessible at all my others.

Overview

This may seem like a complicated process, but most of the above are one-time-only tasks. Once everything is set up, here’s what the workflow looks like.

1. Browse for new references and PDFs using Papers.

2. As needed, export the Smart Collection within Papers as an ‘EndNote 8 or higher’ file.

3. Import that file into Sente.

4. Use Sente to cite those references in your masterpiece!

5. Publish said masterpiece and get tenure!

Dropbox ensures that all my computers always have the exact same Papers library. Exporting the smart collection gets all that information to Sente which is responsible for syncing the information to Sente on all of the other computers.

So, what do you think? Is there any easier way to accomplish the same thing? If so, please let me know in the comments.

SelfControl for those without self control

This isn’t becoming a productivity blog, I promise (no time for that). However, I did want to take a second to recommend a free program for Macs that has the potential to substantially increase your productivity.

If I’m working outdoors I can usually focus on the task at hand until it is complete. However, this is not always the case when I’m working at the computer. (See previous post regarding browser home pages.) There are days when I close all my browser windows, twitter streams, and mail programs only to reopen them in a short amount of time. The next thing I know, I’ve wasted another twenty minutes of my day.

Apparently this is a common problem. Thankfully Steve Lambert has created a program called SelfControl (website) to help us out, and he’s made it available for the low cost of free. What SelfControl does is simple. You open the program, select the duration of time that you want to work distraction free, and then hit start. Once the program begins to run, your computer is blocked from all internet activity. One of the main differences between SelfControl and other similar programs (besides being free of course) is that there is no way to stop the program before that set time is up.

What if you quit the program? Nope, sorry, no internet.

Okay, what if you log out and log back in again? Nope, that won’t work either.

Fine then, what if you shut down and restart the entire computer? Again, still no internet.

This is, of course, an extreme measure. But that’s the point. Once that timer starts, you are left with nothing to do except work on that project. Here one might object that this is too extreme to be useful for most people. What if, for example, your project requires you to use some part of the web? If you have no internet connection you obviously wouldn’t be able to work on that project. Or, what if you tend to only be distracted by a few websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, http://www.apple.com/store)? Well, the developer has thought of these types of scenarios and has given you the ability to run SelfControl using either a “whitelist” or a “blacklist.”

Using the whitelist you can have SelfControl block all internet activity, except for the web addresses you specifically enter. If you’re working on a project within Google Docs you could enter the Google Docs web address and everything else would be blocked. Using the blacklist you can have SelfControl allow all internet activity, except for the web addresses you specifcally enter. So, if Facebook and Twitter are your major sources of distraction just enter http://www.facebook.com and http://www.twitter.com and you won’t be able to access those account until the timer runs out.

There’s one additional tool that you might find useful, depending on your situation. If you use Apple Mail, you can also have SelfControl import your incoming or outgoing (or both) mail servers so that you can still have access to email while the app is running. Since emails are almost never my source of distraction, I find this particularly helpful.

So, for those of us that don’t have self control when it comes to computer usage, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of SelfControl.


A one-step guide to becoming more productive

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of website and books devoted to helping people be more productive. Many of these guides have multiple steps and can become quite complex (so complex that I think many people waste more time than they save on their quest for productivity). What I offer now is not complex. In fact, I do not think it could be simpler. In just one step I’m sure you will immediately become much more productive.

Here we go.

Many times we find ourselves needing to visit some website to accomplish a task (e.g. schedule a payment from your online bank account). So, we open an internet browser and are greeted with something like this.

Once this is finished loading we’re confronted with a host of distractions. I should see how things are going with that oil spill. Who is this person President Obama nominated to the Supreme Court? Did the Celtics win last night? Hey, my old roommate is online-I should see how he’s doing.

As soon as that web page loads, there are loads of things to lure us away from doing whatever it was that we originally set off to do.

Fortunately there is an easy fix to this, just don’t tell the people at Yahoo!. All you need to do is open your browser’s preferences menu, look for the default “Home Page” setting, and delete whatever web address is listed. It should look something like this.

Now when you open your browser you’ll be greeted by this productivity-enhancing sight rather than the siren of distraction seen above.

Now when you decide to go pay that bill online you’ll open the browser and be much more likely to go straight to your bank’s website and get on with your day’s tasks. If you’re looking to increase your productivity, you’re just one step away from getting there.

So what do you think? Would this help increase your productivity? Has it? Can you live without your iGoogle or Yahoo! home page? Let us know in the comments.


Sente vs. Papers: Two Outstanding Bibliographic Management Tools for Mac

A large part of my job as a professor involves finding articles in professional philosophy journals and interacting with them in one way or another. Some I use for my own research projects and some I assign to students in my philosophy classes. Over the years I’ve started to amass quite a lot of bibliographic material. In the last year or so I started using a program called Papers that is designed to help academics find research material. A few months ago I tried out a new program called Sente that does the same, plus a few other things.

Below is my impression of both apps and a heavily qualified recommendation. Since I’ve had it longer, I’ll start with Papers.

Papers by Mekentosj (http://mekentosj.com/papers/)
Cost: $42 ($25 for students after a whopping 40% student discount)
Trial: Fully functional for 30 days

This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing apps on my Mac. From the carefully crafted dock icon (which you see ‘being built’ as the app installs) to the cutesy audio alerts when adding or deleting papers you can easily tell a lot of energy went into the fit and finish of this app. There’s a reason why they won an Apple Design Award in 2007.

The interface isn’t just pretty, though. It is very easy to navigate around the app. There are built in search repositories that allow simple, one-click access to research articles through JSTOR, Google Scholar, and host of others. Most of the repositories are geared towards the sciences, but browsing the forums indicates that more humanities plug-ins may be on the way. Once you get the articles into the program, there is a great full-screen PDF reader that also allows you to take notes about the article itself. The notes are stored along with the reference itself so a return to the full-screen reader isn’t required to pull them back up.

Inevitably you’ll end up with references by the same author with names spelled slightly differently. Thankfully, Papers allows you to merge authors into one which makes for a nice and clean main screen (you can do the same with journal names). You can also arrange groups of references into collections (one per chapter of your dissertation, for example) and ‘Smart Collections’ that will auto-populate based upon the criteria you give it.

If you use more than one computer it’s helpful to have the same references available on all the computers you use. Thankfully, it’s very easy to set up Papers to work with the free (up to 2GB) file-synchronization program Dropbox (if you don’t have an account already, use this link and we’ll both get an extra 250MB). Since Papers stores all its files in one folder all you need to do to sync multiple computers is install Dropbox on each one and then drag your Papers folder into the Dropbox folder. Very simple and very convenient.

Papers also has a very active forum so if you need help with a specific issue, someone is likely to respond to your question pretty quickly and ably.

There is one major downside to Papers. Unfortunately Papers cannot auto-magically send all this reference material to your word processor as a citation. To their credit, the makers of Papers have been forthright about not having this feature. They don’t see their program as a citation-generator but instead as a reference miner. While I understand they want to focus on finding and cataloging references very well, it would be great if I could also easily have my references formatted according to the Chicago Manual of Style (or APA, Harvard, etc.) and inserted into my current paper. Thankfully, there are programs that perform such a task.

Sente by Third Street Software (http://www.thirdstreetsoftware.com)
Cost: $129.25 ($89.95 for students)
Trial: Fully functional for 30 days

Sente is definitely the more costly of the two apps, but it costs more for a reason. Sente aims to do everything that Papers does but also adds in citation creation in your word processor. The recently released Sente 6.0 also adds in automatic library synchronization. You can even allow colleagues access to your reference library.

While Sente does have most of the features of Papers, it does not have the slick user interface that Papers does. Some programs are nice to use and others are a joy to use. Sente is more of the former whereas Papers is more of the latter. It’s not that Sente has a bad user interface, it’s just not as nice as Papers. When it comes to finding references Sente is still quite able, but it would be nice if it had a few of the features that Papers has.

For example, there are no search repositories in Sente. Instead you use its built-in web browser to navigate to journals and then import them to your library from that webpage. Sente does have a pretty nifty “targeted browsing” feature. Essentially, when you navigate to a supported page Sente adds small bulls-eyes next to each reference (unless you already have that reference in your library, in that case you see a small Sente logo). Click the bulls-eye and it starts to download the reference and, optionally, the associated PDF. In my experience it works pretty well, but even after several email exchanges with their support team I couldn’t get it to work with certain journals (a big kudos to them for the time they spent on my issue – even if they didn’t get it working).

Sente also lacks the merge option for authors and journals which, believe it or not, is something you’ll start to miss pretty quickly.

So finding references isn’t nearly as nice as Papers but Sente does create your citations for you. This will work with most major word processors, but all I use is Mellel so I can’t vouch for how well it works with other programs. After tooling around with Mellel and Sente together I can see why the Papers team has opted to forgo the ability to create citations. There are so many specific options for each citation method that it can be a bit overwhelming to even get started (the Chicago Manual of Style alone is nearly 1,000 pages long). Thankfully Sente has the main styles already built in, but in my case they weren’t perfect. It also wasn’t easy to figure out how to edit those styles to fit your specific situation. I ended up just creating my own set of journal, book chapter, and book citations from scratch. I’m sure it would’ve been faster to edit the built-in style but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

My Recommendation
In sum, Sente has almost all the features of Papers plus built-in synchronization and will generate your citations for you. These added features come at cost, however. Sente will set you back nearly $90 more than Papers (for students it’s closer to $65). Since you can get basic synchronization for free with Dropbox, the citation creation should be very important to you (Dropbox won’t allow you to sync your library with colleagues though). Papers doesn’t have all the features of Sente, but is much less expensive and is very enjoyable to use.

Since I, obviously, already have both programs I’m in a very fortunate position. I can use both! In the next day or two I’ll post a quick how-to guide for using both programs, keeping them in sync with one another, and keeping both programs on all your computers in sync too. In the meantime, feel free to post your thoughts or questions regarding either Paper or Sente.

Why I’ll Probably Never Buy an E-reader

Amazon Kindle
Yesterday I saw a web announcement that Sony was dropping the price of their e-reader and that Barnes & Noble is rumored to join Amazon and Sony with their own e-reader in the near future. This got me thinking about e-readers and whether I’d like one. Then last night I came across a great article, “A New Page,” in The New Yorker by Nicholson Baker about the Amazon Kindle and I decided it was time to write out my thoughts about e-readers. After reading Baker’s article I think I’ve finally decided why it’s not likely that I’ll ever buy an e-reader or even e-books. (Baker mostly decries the experience of using the Kindle, but my reasons are almost entirely different.) Here’s why you probably won’t see an e-reader in my hand anytime soon.

  1. You can’t loan an e-book to a friend without loaning the device.

    When you buy an e-book, whether it’s through Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you buy that book. You are allowed to read that book on whatever device that vendor allows you to read it on. For example, you can read Amazon Kindle books on the Kindle app for the iPhone or iPod Touch. But I can’t loan the book to a friend to read on his iPhone or iPod Touch. One of the pleasures of having a nice collection of books is allowing other people to make use of it (assuming of course you’ve got a way to make sure you don’t loose track of who has what – Delicious Library is great for that).

  2. It’ll be nearly impossible for me to give my e-books to my children (who then will be robbed of the opportunity to sell the collection for a small fraction of its worth).

    Not only can I not simply give my e-books to my heirs, there’s a good chance that I won’t even have an Amazon Kindle or Sony E-Reader or Barnes & Noble Whatever when death comes knocking. The only way I could give them away is to give them access to account, but they’ll still be stuck with whatever company I originally bought the books from. Each purchased e-book is saddled with a proprietary DRM system that forces me (and my children) to continue to use that one company’s device forever. The simple fact is that buying an e-book is a very long-term commitment to particular company and their ability to continue to develop the product. I’m not willing to make such a commitment.

  3. Reading books on the screen just isn’t the same as reading an actual book.

    Here I must say I have very limited experience with dedicated e-readers, but Baker’s article seems to lend support to this complaint. My experience with e-books has been on the computer screen and on my iPod Touch. I can never read more than a few pages on the computer before seeking out the nearest library that has the actual book. The iPod Touch is much better and I think it’s because I can get comfortable and still see the screen. When the weather is nice I don’t want to be stuck at my desk hunched over a laptop screen. The iPod Touch fixes that problem but it is still not as pleasant an experience as the feel of nicely bound book. My biggest complaint (and it’s the same on all devices, from what I can tell) is the lack of page numbers. Since the screens are not the same size as the pages of a book, the page numbers often don’t match (the Kindle using something called a “page range”, I think).

  4. The selection of academic e-books is still quite small.

    Most of my books are not New York Times best sellers. They are academic books that sell very few copies. The books I’m interested are probably not very high on the list of books to be considered for e-publication. I have noticed that more publishers are sending out examination copies as a PDF so maybe I’m mistaken on this point. But my own experience makes me think that not many academic titles are available in an e-format. Even if they are available, it’s highly likely that I’ll need to cite specific page numbers for my own publications. The above worry about page numbers comes back into play here.

So what would it take for me to buy an e-book? Not surprisingly, fixing the above problems. To be a bit more specific, here are three things that would make me jump on the e-book bandwagon.

  1. Ditch DRM

    Apple took a lot of flack for only allowing music bought from their store to play on their devices. (Sound familiar?) Apple has since stopped selling their music with these restrictions and allows you to upgrade your previously purchased music to allow it to play on any device. If the e-book companies did the same, a huge obstacle would be removed. I’m much more comfortable investing a lot of money into e-books if I know I can switch to whatever device offers the best experience without having to re-purchase all those books. Of course each company wants to get people locked into their device, but that’s also what prevents people from switching to their device.

  2. Fix the page numbers

    This is a no-brainer. This could probably be fixed with a software update to whatever program(s) they are using to originally format the books. They could even keep the device-specifc page numbers where they are now, just allow me the option to turn on a page number (in parenthesis perhaps) that refers to the physical book. Since the pages don’t often correspond, they could even just place them in the margins. Again, make this an option so people that don’t need/want the numbers don’t have to look at them. I could turn it on when reading a book for my own research and turn it off when reading a book for my own enjoyment.

  3. Bundle the print and e-book copies together

    Even if the above fixes were beautifully implemented, there’s a good chance that I’ll never want to have just an e-book copy. I enjoy holding actual books in my hands. I like casually flipping through the table of contents and then jumping right to the index. Scanning through the chapter to see future section headings while holding my place in the current section is really valuable to me. It’s not likely that any of these things will be able to be accomplished well with an e-book.

    But, if you sell me the print copy and then give me a substantial discount on the e-book then you’ll have me hooked. I’m sure there are profitability worries about this idea, but it’s what would actually provide added value to the purchase for me. I could read like I normally do and not have to lug all my books I’m currently reading to conferences or libraries. When a company tries to sell me just the e-book it’s actually more of a hassle for me. I know I can save a couple of bucks, but it’s not money well-saved. The lost time in productivity will cost more than the money saved. But would I be willing to spend 35% – 40% more (maybe even 50%) on a hard copy book if that meant I could get the e-reader version too? In a heartbeat. In fact, I’d probably do that even if it meant I was locked into one device. No matter what happened to that e-reader company, I’d still have something – the actual physical book.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m most hopeful about fix number three since Amazon used to do something similar (they may still, but I haven’t seen anything on their website about it in some time). There was a time when you could add to your cart an e-version of the hardback book. If I remember correctly, buying the two together was less expensive than buying them separately. The problem with that e-book offering is that it was before they had the Kindle. Yes you had an e-book, but you had to read it on your computer. As I said above, that’s not a very good option for me. If they brought back that same capability but sent it to the Kindle instead, I’d happily jump aboard. And, of course, the same would go for Sony or Barnes & Noble. Like most things, whichever company provides a product that I value is the company that gets my business.

So what are your thoughts? Have you bought an e-book? Would you? Has any of the companies above already implemented some of the things I suggest? Let me know in the comments.