Saturday, October 29, 2005

Online holiday games to play

For those of us who just don't get out enough into the real world...

Note that some of these require Shockwave or other plugins to work, and probably a fast connection as well.

Links courtesy of News from ME and Lifehacker (more links to other games included in the comments to the Lifehacker post)

10+ year old files

During the New PC Blues upgrade process, I ran across a 5.25" floppy disk Liz had used to store files related to a musicology paper she wrote back in 1989 -- well before I came on the scene.

Why we hadn't done anything with this diskette before, I don't know. But what to do with it now? Our last two PCs had only 3.5" drives, and the current one has no floppy drives at all. Who needs the things, with USB flash drives?

Unfortunately, Liz didn't have any other copies of this paper and wanted to keep them. What to do?

Few friends or co-workers had a 5.25" drive, even in a closet, let alone installed in a working system. Fortunately, Michelle's boyfriend was visiting his father in Fayetteville who, amazingly enough, had a 5.25" drive on one of his computers. Michelle assured me that 5.25" diskettes were tougher than the 3.5" disks and that the files were probably still readable.

Her boyfriend copied off the files, zipped them, and emailed them to me. Easy as pie.

Next: Let's try opening them in Word, surely there's a converter ... Ah, but no. Most of the text comes in, but the formatting codes interfere with too much of it to make the file easily readable. Then Liz remembered that maybe it was Wordstar for DOS instead of WordPerfect that she'd used for the paper.

I fiddled with downloading Word 2000 converters but instead invoked the Google oracle. Up popped several Wordstar sites, including several utilities to convert old WS files. The one I picked converts Wordstar files to formatted HTML. It runs from a DOS window and uses the command-line to specify the source and destination filenames.

Voila -- it worked. The HTML files come up with the original formatting preserved and all the text in place. The text can now be easily copied into Word files or wherever they will sit for the next 10+ years.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Storing Nuggets of Information

Over at the PigPog site, Michael muses on how to store and retrieve nuggets of information, particularly as it relates to non-fiction writing. I respond in the comments with two tediously long missives that constitute a skimming-off of the shmarty-cream afloat in my brain. (Sorry, been reading too much of the Wikipedia entry on Simpsons neologisms.)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

RSS Feeds - one day at a time

This item from Merlin's 43Folders blog knocked me for a loop and I took a few examples from the Probations idea and from others in the comments to adjust how my Bloglines feeds are displayed.

* First, I always have the option checked that only updated feeds be displayed. When I began editing my list, I was shocked at how many feeds I've subscribed to that haven't updated in months. Out they went. Others went into the probation folder.

* I like sorting my blog folders in alphabetical order. It's natural yet arbitrary. Sue me. So, I have "z_Probation" to hold the feeds I'm on the fence about.

* I also had subject-level folder categories, the largest being "Blogs," which usually always had something for me to look at and/or clear out. So that needed trimming down. I picked out a few blogs I love checking on a daily basis--Catarina, Cool Tools, Core Dump, and a few others--but that don't update constantly. These are the "desert-island blogs" that I let myself check anytime I want.

* I also created a Comics folder for the few comics blogs I read and a folder to hold various feeds from I let myself check these daily because they don't update often.

* But I also enjoy the novelty and freshness of something new coming into Bloglines on a regular basis because, you know, my bored brain needs stimulation all the time. And there were plenty of blogs I like but that didn't need to be checked daily.

So, I created a set of day-based folders--_1_Monday, _2_Tuesday, up to _6_Sat/Sun. I then arbitrarily split up my huge Blogs folder amongst this group.

So now, the simple rule is: On Wednesday, for example, I allow myself to read the blogs in _3_Wednesday and in any non-dated folder (Blogs, Comics, Audible). I cannot read Monday's blogs till Monday, Tuesday's blogs till Tuesday, and so on. I can tell at a glance if my Blogs and Wednesday folder are empty, and if they are, this is the signal for me to move on to real work. I know that tomorrow's blogs await and that they will have something new to delight me. It keeps me from overdosing on them all today.

A final refinement: high-update blogs like Mark Evanier's and Quick Online Tips go into the Sat/Sun folder because they generate lots of items daily. While I enjoy them, I simply don't have time to process them. I have a little more time on the weekend, so the high-impact blogs go here.

I'm toying with the idea of letting myself view any blog on the weekends or after work-hours, but for now, I'm sticking with this system.

Monday, October 24, 2005

New PC Blues: The Beginning

The time had come. My last computer had been an HP Pavilion, bought at Circuit City, when Windows Me was the OS of choice. It had 256MB RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and a CD burner, but I'd not upgraded it much beyond adding more RAM. Along the way, we got DSL, a wireless router, file and printer sharing between my desktop and Liz's laptop, an HP all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax, several plug-in USB readers for various media formats, I'd compiled a large list of "essential software" for the PC, and I installed and uninstalled shareware like it was nobody's business.

But little things began piling up -- Windows began running arthritically slow (could it have been all the programs loaded at startup?), the "replace battery" light glowed red on the UPS unit, the network was acting flakey and I did not have the tools or methodology to deal with that particular problem.

And--embarrassing though it may be to say--when I saw the New Yorker was issuing all its back issues on DVD, I knew I didn't want to have to trick out the old PC anymore. [Aside -- I think the DVD set will sit nicely beside my previous magazine collection on CD. Lovely little bookends, what?]

It was time to upgrade--get a new PC, with a bigger hard drive, enough RAM, DVD burner and reader, built-in media readers, and maybe a few other goodies. Also, maybe, just maybe, please God -- the network would again work as flawlessly as it had been working for the previous year or so.

Around this time, I had to sell a mutual fund to pay off some debts and thought I had enough left over to buy a new PC. After looking around, I decided to buy from a local computer store instead of the big-box stores and to bequeath my old computer to a friend who would appreciate it.

So this series of posts will catalog for future generations (or just me) what I did, why I did it that way, and lessons learned as I went along. I also always like seeing those wonderful checklists people make when they reinstall Windows, because it can be an elaborate operation and you always forget what you did from the last time you did it. Until I make such a checklist, I'll let these posts take their place.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Links: Writing tips for academic papers

I compiled the following quickie list of paper-writing tips for a co-worker who is taking online classes and has been away from paper-writing for a while. The whole process seemed difficult for her, so these links cover a broad range of items. Some of the links to academic papers at the end of this list may have good clues, especially with selecting thesis statements. I've not vetted all these, but they're a start. The little comments for each are reproduced from my original email to her that contained these links.

A good book I recommend is this: Books: Thinking on Paper

--Just read the first half (the second half is all about the Latin names for types of logical arguments). it sets forth a very good simple process for building a piece of writing from the ground up so that it isn't as painful as you think.

Writing tips compiled by Mike Shea
--Here's the PDF version

Poynter Online - The Writing Tools
--Just scan the list and read whatever article is of interest. His focus is on journalism so his approach might conflict with academic writing. but the writing tips are good and solid. You'll be able to devise some simple rules to help you in your actual writing.

43 Folders: Hack your way out of writer's block
--Entertaining list of bullet points and good comments. but lookit the next link too.

Google Groups : 43 Folders
--Advice on paper writing from a grad student

TOC About Writing
--I'm also interested in fiction writing and this page has mainly tips for that side of the house.

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work
--A great page of tips to bust procrastination.

Study Guides and Strategies
--Scroll down to the writing sections, but good general advice to students.

Google Search: tips academic writing papers
--The search i used to dig up some of the links in this mail.

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch
--This is for when you're writing for an in-class test, but some good advice.

Thesis Statements: What are They?
-This might be more practical for your needs right now. BE SURE to click on the Related Links in the right sidebar. You might get good ideas there.

Academic Writing Handouts -- Dennis G. Jerz
--The top page from which the previous two links were drawn.

Sally Slacker Writes a Paper (Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University)
--I haven't read all this but I like the title!

Tips for Writing Academic Essays and Term Papers in Philosophy at Erratic Impact
--Good numbered tips after the intro.

Writing Help
--Ton o' links. Don't know how many of them are still good.

Academic Center :: Writing Tips
--More basic tips on academic writing. After you've read about 10 of these kinds of pages, you'll notice they start repeating themselves.

--A pretty good checklist to use after you've written a draft.