Friday, July 27, 2007

Using OneNote for academic journal reading

We all believe that "sharpening the saw" is important, but it's not always easy to do when we're out in the weeds of our respective countries.  It's important to keep reading widely when we're on our fields but it's not always easy to keep up with our professional reading.  Mail service is slow, if it exists at all.  Periodicals are expensive and have to be packed or moved every four years or so.

I've found that using Microsoft's OneNote is fantastic way to read academic journals.  It allows me to:

  • build a great library of articles where they're easily accessible
  • highlight and comment as I'm reading
  • do searches throughout my library
  • email particularly interesting articles to my colleagues...with my annotations

Here's how I use OneNote in five simple steps:

imageStep One: Let's use Evangelical Missions Quarterly as an example.  I navigate to EMQ and log in.  EMQ is a subscription-based site.  An online subscription costs about fourteen dollars a year, which is pretty cheap.

imageStep two: Select the articles I want to read.  I do this in Firefox and just ctrl-click on all the articles that interest me; this opens each article in a separate tab.  In the past I felt like I hadn't "read the journal" until I'd read everything, including letters to the editor and book reviews.  Don't get into that trap.  Read what interests you or what you feel like would be profitable. 

image Step Three: I go to OneNote and create a "section" for this quarter's issue.  You'll see here that my EMQ folder has a section for various editions back through January of 1998.  Filing articles this way makes it very easy to search back through an edition and keeps things orderly.  You could just as easily keep them in one large notebook however.  I've only been downloading EMQ like this for a year or so, but my library is growing back to 1998.  As articles I'm reading refer to previous articles, I simply download them and include them in my library. 


Step Four: I print each article onto a separate page on the section.  OneNote comes with a built in printer driver, which makes this very easy.  Each article has a separate page in the section, and each issue a separate section in the notebook.  This makes it very easy to "thumb through" various issues and articles.


imageStep Five: I read, highlight and annotate the articles to my hearts content.  I can even hyperlink between articles, which is great if one article interacts a lot with another.  OneNote does not  require that you have a TabletPC, though the tablet some functionality comes in handy and makes a very natural reading and annotating platform.

image Other Great Stuff: One of the most powerful ways to leverage this approach is with OneNote's excellent search capability.  When material is "printed" into OneNote it's automatically OCR'd (optical character recognition).  This means that OneNote makes all the text and graphics searchable.

Take for example the word, "Partnership."  I enter it in the search box and almost immediately get the results back from my EMQ "library".  In the articles I've archived there are 15 that mention "partnership" and I can easily go to them by clicking on the links.  When I go there all of my previous comments and annotations are there to refresh my memory.

OneNote also has very useful email capabilities built in.  Sometimes I run across an article that may be interesting to a team mate or colleague. 


With one click OneNote formats an email with the page in the body and a OneNote file attached.  You don't have to have OneNote installed on your computer to be able to receive either the article or the annotations.  Both come and are rendered as HTML in your email.  If you do have OneNote installed you have access to the core file and it can be added to your own files.

In summary, OneNote is a fantastic tool for maintaining a library of academic journal articles, especially when you can only get them electronically . 


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

GrandCentral: one ring to bind them all

It's taken me a few days to figure out how to explain this, but after using GrandCentral for about a week I think you may find that this is a must-have app.


GrandCentral is a service that offers you a normal, but special, phone number in the area code of your choice.  You can then link all of your other phones to this number.  When someone calls your GrandCentral number all of your linked phones ring (depending on how you set it up, see pic below).  It also creates a unified voice mail system which can be accessed over any of your phones or through a web interface.

This has come in very handy recently as we've been moving around in preparation for returning to the country in which we work.  First I set up GC to ring my home number and my cell phone.  Then when people called my GC number both phones rang and I was able to pick up either one.  Over the last several days we've been moving into my mom's house for a few weeks before flying out of the country.  When we made the move to "mom's", I added her number to my GC profile.  Now when my friends call MY SAME NUMBER, my home phone, my mom's phone and my cell phone ring. 


Yesterday one of the pastors from our church wanted to return a call I put in to him.  He had no idea where I was.  I might have been in our old house packing.  I might have been on the road or even at my mom's.  But it didn't matter because he called my GC number; GC makes it irrelevant.  His comment after I explained the service to him?  "Man, this is the phone I've always wanted...isn't this what everyone wants?" Okay, okay, I see you waving your hand, "Ya, but

image he could have just called your cell phone, which you always have with you!"  Yes, that's true.  But first, I don't always want to talk on my cell phone and two, GC also handles all my voice mail.  I don't have to check my cell phone's voice mail and my home phone's voice mail, etc.

The idea behind GrandCentral who's motto is, "one phone number for life."   Right now GC doesn't handle international calls, but they claim they may add that in the future.  I could, however, connect GC to a SkypeIn number and truly have one phone number for life.  You can read more here, here

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tricking out Google Reader...more Greasemonkey goodness.

 LifeHacker just pointed to a great collection of fifteen Google Reader customizations that have taken care of my last remaining gripes with the feed reader.

I wrote a couple of days ago about adding a search box to Google Reader (which is one of the fifteen).  But from the fifteen remaining scripts in this great round-up, here are the three real life-savers.

imageGoogle Reader Preview Enhanced - This script allows you to see the original post in its original layout, complete with comments, from within Reader.  I like this because it saves me from loading up another tab to check on a posts comments.  Pretty slick!

Auto-add feed to Google Reader - This script skips the annoying option of whether you want to subscribe and add the feed to Google homepage or Google Reader.  This is dumb to me...of course I want to subscribe in Reader.  This script is a real time-saver.

image Google Reader + -

This is a real time-saver too...sort of.  Now you can save the current blog-post right to your account.  The script is still a little rough.  it doesn't add common tags for the post (unlike the Firefox extension) and you have to log-in to each time you tag something.  It's still easier than opening the original post in a new window, however.

Google Reader is just getting better and better.  Like with most things today, however, the developer community is ensuring that the product continues to develop.


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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Greasemonkey script adds search to Google Reader - Download Squad

About a month ago I wrote about my grand experiment of abandoning Newsgator for Google Reader.  I'm going to write a comparison later, but one of my beefs with Reader has been a lack of search functionality.  Others have commented on how odd this is for a product put out by Google.

Today DownloadSquad reported on a new GreaseMonkey script that adds search to Reader.  Install the script and suddenly you have a search box in Google Reader!  If you're not familiar with GreaseMonkey, it's the ginszu knife of FireFox customization.  It's a platform on which all manner of wonderful things occur in Firefox. 

Find GreaseMonkey here and the search box script here.


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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Books: An awesome shopping tool

Who doesn't love books?  Who can't afford all the books they'd like to read?  If you're serving in some far away place you probably order all your books online.  But Amazon doesn't always have the lowest price on your next great read.

bookprice Check out Booksprice  a handy book-seller comparison tool.  Enter your book's title, author or ISBN number and Booksprice will return a gazillion different purchasing options, all sorted by price. 

You'll see how Amazon compares with Barnes & Noble against Ebay and

Of course, you still have to have that friend or family member send your new book to you in the latest care package, but at least you got a great deal up front.

via DuctTapeMarketing

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How to: Writing thank you notes

Writing thank you notes is a lost art.  This was never more clear to me than a month or so ago.  A college student we know was preparing to go overseas for a summer ministry and sent us a letter requesting our prayer and financial support.  Since we believe in this student and their work, we sent off a check.  While we later got an updated support letter, we never got a thank you note.

I didn't really think any more about it until someone else mentioned getting a support letter from the same person and that they were wondering whether they should contribute.  Why was there an question?  Because that person had never received a thank you from previous years' support.  Years plural, not year.

That got me thinking again about a great podcast I listened to back in March.  Produced by my favorite management gurus Mike & Mark, they give some great guidelines for the lost art of thank you note writing.

Here are some key take-aways:

  1. Materials - Store bought is fine, but an upgrade is worth it.  Some people get hung up on the quality of the materials and never right the card.  They're afraid store bought cards aren't good enough.  WRITE THE CARD... with whatever you have!
  2. Only say "thank you" twice in the body of the note.
  3. Never ask a question or request a favor in a thank you note.  It completely negates the value of your note. Maybe this is obvious but it should be stated.
  4. It is never too late to write a "thank you".  It's never, never, never too late to send a thank you note.  The debt owed by a kindness never expires.
  5. Hand-written is always best, even if you're handwriting isn't good.
  6. If you're thanking someone for a financial gift, don't mention the amount in the thank you.  This makes the note about the money and not about the relationship.

What should you write in a thank you?  Here's a simple format to get you started.  It should generally be three paragraphs:

First paragraph: One sentence long where you say "thank you".  Like, "Thank you for your generous gift."  "Thank you for hosting us for dinner last night."

Second paragraph:  Two sentences written to personalize the note.  This communicates you've thought about the recipient and not sent them a templated note.  For example, "The steak was great and the company was better.  I'll always remember the jokes we shared."

Third paragraph: Simply restate your thanks in one sentence.  "Again, you have my thanks and best wishes" or "Again, I'm in your debt and look forward to returning the favor."

That's just a simple format that covers all the bases and gives you a structure on which to build.

Earlier in the year I had several lunches with a wealthy man who has contributed significantly to several organizations, including my own.  He shared with me that he had once contacted an agency and asked how much it took to support one missionary family for a year on the field.  When he got the answer he wrote a check to support a particular missionary with that organization.  Months and months went by and he never heard from either the organization or the supported missionary.  He never did.  And he never sent a check like that again.

He told me, I didn't want a plaque, I didn't want a big thing made out of my gift.  I really just wanted some feedback that the gift had arrived and had the intended effect.

Missionaries, by virtue of their calling, often find themselves on the receiving end of things.  Their lives and work depend on the graciousness and generosity of others.  Let's make sure we're equally as gracious in thanking the people who make our work possible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Language Learning Tools: Audio editing software

Language learning is one of the tasks most missionaries have to gut out.  Contrary to American television shows, it takes years of study to become fluent in a second language...especially for Americans!  Recording and reviewing audio "texts" is a regularly used golf club in every language learner's bag.  We all probably have tapes, CDs and MP3s lying around unused.  So whether you want to convert those old cassette tapes to MP3s or edit that language-helper study session you need audio editing software to make it easy.

When we first went to Kosovo I took an MP3 recorder and regularly recorded conversations, prayers & songs during church, and even the morning TV news.  At the time, the only product that I found for editing these samples was called "Cool Edit 2000."  Cool Edit eventually got bought by Adobe and has been released as Adobe Audition.

But like you, I like free applications best!  So long ago I found Audacity for editing audio files. In May the developers released version 1.3 which adds a couple of nice features,

  • Import Quicktime files in OSX (mov, aac, m4a)
  • Add metadata to OGG files
  • Improved export option selection
  • EQ and effects improvements
  • Screen capture utility
  • Improved spectrogram rendering
  • Selection bar improvements
  • New features for label tracks
  • Auto-save and crash recovery
  • Collapse and expand tracks
  • Multiple clips per track
  • Open multiple projects at once form Windows Explorer

Reaper is another nice-looking audio editing application.  I haven't used it personally, but the feature set looks nice.  Reaper is developed by the same guy that created WinAmp and has a lot of the features found in more expensive editing packages.

Though it's not free ($40) it has a lot of nice features, including the ability to decode the audio from AVI, WMV, MPG and MOV video files.  That's a nice feature if you have language resources on video and want to extract the audio out for study purposes.

I'm sure there are other products available out there as well, but these are two that I don't think will let you down for editing and combining language study audio materials.


via DownloadSquad

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Your Address, Their Apps: Using GoogleApps for your email, chat, docs and more

Many of us may already use Gmail, the simple yet powerful web-based email application.   Many of us have also set up our own domains for our organizations, teams or families.  I never realized how easy it is to put the two together with GoogleApps.

GoogleApps is a Google product that lets you or your organization essentially use and re-brand Google products.  That is, you can use Google's GMail or Docs & Spreadsheets application with your own domain name (

A couple of weeks ago Scott Hanselman wrote "the definitive guide" using GoogleApps in a way I could finally understand.  Though GoogleApps has been around for a while, I just didn't get it.  Now I do and it is sweet.

A while back I finally broke down and registered my own name as a domain.  There's a little background to this, but I wanted one semi-easy-to-remember place to find information about us and our work in Kosovo.  I created a site with SiteKreator, a fantastic and easy to use site creation tool, and that was that.  But I never thought about coupling it up with email because Sitekreator created sites are hosted at SiteKreator.  It wasn't obvious to me how to use someone else's mail servers for my own nefarious ends.

Twenty minutes after reading Scott's post, I had set up Jeff@ as a new email address.  Now I can go to and read my mail on the web, and can go to for all my online documents (while GoogleApps provides more services, those are the only two I've set up).  Both of these are run by Google and allow my website to remain unchanged.

What's best about this is that it is all FREE.  My website is hosted for free, my email (Gmail) is free, my documents are hosted for free.  All I've invested was the nine bucks it took to register my domain name. What's second best is that should I ever want to move away from using Gmail as the "back end" mail server, I can change mail servers without ever changing my email address again.

 If you read Scott's article, it look a little intimidating.  It's not as hard as it seems.  Give it a try!


via LifeHacker

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pownce invites

image Whether you call it "status messaging," "micro-blogging" or "nano-blogging" people are all a-stir over new ways to communicate in near real-time with their geographically displaced friends.  I haven't written a lot about this yet because the space ( the market, demand and products) is too new to know where things are ultimately headed.

Twitter, Jaiku and Pownce are three of the front-runners space, with Pownce being the new-comer.

At the same time, if anyone is interested, I have six Pownce invites if anyone wants them.  What does this have to do with missions?  It's part of my broader experiment to understand how social networking and "online presence" affect the way to relate to our supporters and organizations.  If you want an invite, please be willing to use it and experiment with me.

Just leave me a comment and I'll get one out to you.

see also:

Your Guide to Micro-Blogging and Twitter

Is Pownce the Twitter or Jaiku Killer?
Pownce is the evolution of collaboration meets social media meets P2P

The Power of Timelines and tools for making them

History is important; it provides the context for everything else we experience.  Timeline are great tools for communicating that history.  A timeline can help you explain the history of your adopted country or your mission's work there.  It's a great way to give your supporters an overview of your work over the long-haul.  And it would provide a short-term missions team an overview of where they fit in the scheme of things.

Up until now it's been difficult to create timelines that could be easily embedded in a blog, powerpoint or website.  The first I found was the Timeline at SIMILE.  It has the advantage of being flexible and embedable.  It provides some neat formatting options and looks really sharp.


The downside was that it all had to be coded in XML (a sort of language) and run through an embedded player on your website.  I got this working, and embedded the result on my web site but every time I fiddled with and event I messed the whole thing up.  It was too delicate for an amateur like me.

 A few days ago I discovered XTimeline, a timeline creator for the rest of us.  It's still in beta but is already very, very powerful.  It's easy to create a great looking timeline in a short period of time.  I've embeded an example below, but to really view it as it's designed click here.


These timeline are very easy to produce.  Go to XTimeline and create an account.  Click on "Create" and you'll be taken to a dialogue box like this one:


Give your timeline a title, category, image and so forth and you're on your way.  Next, add some events. Click 'add event'  and fill in the dialogue box.


Add enough events and you're beginning to tell your story.  XTimelines is also a "social" application.  That is, depending on your settings others can comments on your timeline and/or events.  Others can even edit your timeline if you'd like. 

When you're done, embed your timeline in your web page or blog to help people understand your story.  Whenever you edit your timeline the new information will be reflected on your web site.


Note that this product is still in beta and that there are some ease-of-use tweaks to be made.  I hope these guys stay around a while.  As a history buff I love tools like these.


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Friday, July 06, 2007

Recharging your in-flight entertainment

My friend Mark is flying off to Taiwan in a few days, and in honor of his 24+ hour flight I should I'd mention this find.

The Inflight USB Power Unit plugs into the audio jack of your seat and outputs power to a USB plug allowing you to charge your iPod, phone, PDA or whatever.  From their site:

Plug compatible with any standard USB charging cable. The Inflight USB Power unit plugs into the passenger seat audio jack and outputs regulated power to the attached USB charging cable/connector.

I can't speculate on how well this would work, or how the airlines would feel about it.  It's kind of a one-trick pony for $35 but might come in handy.

via jkOnTherun

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Explaining Social Networks like Facebook, LinkedIn

Facebook?  LinkedIn? MySpace?  What's all the hoopla about?  Trying to explain the power of social networks is a bit of a challenge.  I'm becoming convinced that they will become the way missionaries will communicate to supporters 5 years from now.

But how to you explain it to your supporters...or your colleagues...or your wife (her eyes glaze over whenever I mention social networking). 

Lee Lefever really explains things well.  Last month I posted his video explaining the power of a Wiki.  This week Lee posted another of his videos explaining social networks.

I wish he would have gone a little further, but this is a good start.  If you read this blog I'd like to connect with you!  Please feel free to "friend" me on Facebook or add me as a contact on LinkedIn.

via Beth

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Skype 3.5 Beta is here

Happy 4th of July everyone!  I hope you Americans (and those of you Americans actually in the US) were able to celebrate the holiday with your family and friends.

But Skype's Peter Parkes isn't an American, he's from the UK and he's reporting on the new (newest?  latest?) Skype beta, 3.5

 It mostly adds a couple of new video features, "Video snapshot" and "Video sharing."  You can download it here or check out the beta forum here.

One commenter made an interesting observation:

I'm starting to feel a bit like I'd like a Lite version of Skype - chat & audio calls only - that installs no compulsory toolbar, plugins etc... In one year, Skype grew from more or less 6-7MB to a whopping 24MB :-(

He's right.  Skype has been bulking up, no doubt in response to the growing number of VOIP-ish service providers.


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Myths of Innovation

Most people admire "innovative people," but only from afar.  Up close and personal, however, innovation just seems like a lot of hard work.  To an outsider, innovators get all the breaks.  "Things just seem to happen around them."  But that's the myth.  Up close things are different. 

Guy Kawasaki has a great interview with Scott Berkun, the author of "the Myths of Innovation." As a sample here's the first interview question:

Question: How long does it take in the real world—as opposed to the world of retroactive journalism—for an “epiphany” to occur?

Answer: An epiphany is the tip of the creative iceberg, and all epiphanies are grounded in work. If you take any magic moment of discovery from history and wander backwards in time you’ll find dozens of smaller observations, inquiries, mistakes, and comedies that occurred to make the epiphany possible. All the great inventors knew this—and typically they downplayed the magic moments. But we all love exciting stories—Newton getting hit by an apple or people with chocolate and peanut butter colliding in hallways—are just more fun to think about. A movie called “watch Einstein stare at his chalkboard for 90 minutes” wouldn’t go over well with most people [emphasis added].

I'm not much of an innovator, though I would like to be; I'd like to be more creative.  I'm most often still hung up on "what people might think."  I may not be an innovator, but I'm trying to be a hard worker and a life-long learner.  The book looks like a good read!

Read the whole interview here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Upload files to your favorite sites with Fire Uploader

Lifehacker's featured Firefox extension yesterday was FireUploader.  This is a nifty little extension that allows you to transfer data from your computer to your favorite social media networking sites.  The description on the FireUploader site says:

As the name says, this firefox extension allows you to upload/download files from any website using a friendly interface. In this version, (1GB of free space), Flickr (photo viewing/sharing), Picasa (photo viewing/sharing), Youtube(Vidoes) are supported. You can upload videos to Youtube, upload/download/organize photos to Picasa, Flickr and Next versions would support other websites like Google Videos, Webshots etc.

image As good as it sounds, I've had significant difficulty making it work right.  When I added my Flickr account information the extension crashed Firefox.  I continued to get dialogue boxes telling me I was having errors I didn't understand.  After a reboot and restart of Firefox all seemed well. I connected to my account and tried to upload a team policy manual.  No dice. 

This is an extension I'm going to be keeping my eye one, but it's not ready for prime time yet.

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