Dapper: Create an RSS feed for sites that don’t have one

picture-12It seems like most sites offer RSS feeds (a method of subscribing to new postings), but every so often I’ll run into a site that doesn’t, but should. For example, say you want to be notified every time a certain company posts a new job listing, or every time a library adds a book on a certain topic.

For those situations, you may find Dapper useful. Dapper is part of a new breed of Web ventures called (unpleasantly enough) “scrapers” — they scrape data from other sites and turn it into usable chunks of information that you can manipulate.

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Documentary filmmakers and DVD encryption

A Copyright Will Protect You from PIRATES by loan Sammell.
"A Copyright Will Protect You from PIRATES" by loan Sameli

I was interested to learn (via NPR’s On the Media, funnily enough) that there’s a dispute between the International Documentary Association (IDA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

The dispute is about DVD encryption. Basically, it’s legal for documentary filmmakers to use snippets of copyrighted films in their own movies, under a provision of copyright law known as fair use. The weird part, though, is that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 makes it illegal for them to break the encryption on DVDs in order to get at the video.

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The best-laid plans …

Panic Button by star5112
"Panic Button" by star5112

I’ve been working hard to get the second chapter of my dissertation finished before the end of the month. I wouldn’t say I’m panicking, exactly, but I’m definitely feeling a heightened sense of urgency. It’s been funny to watch all my carefully designed notetaking and citation plans get shoved out the window now that I really have to write. All these months I’ve been carefully entering sources into Zotero, only to completely ignore them now because I feel like I can’t spare the time to figure out how to use Zotero’s citation tool.

This always happens to me, and I feel like it’s basically okay. Sometimes, when push comes to shove, I just need to write and not worry about Getting Things Done or workflow or whatever. As it is, I’ve been inventing dates and approximating quotes, knowing I’ll go back and fix them later.

There was a New York Times article recently on the science of concentration. Winifred Gallagher, the author of the book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, recommends that, when working, “don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption.” For me, this is certainly true, and, while making up quotes is pretty extreme, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say I’ll do whatever it takes to get words on the page.

Make tutorials dead-simple with ScreenSteps

ScreenSteps logoIf you’re wondering how I got so fancy with my instructions on how to make a DVD clip reel, I had a trick up my sleeve. ScreenSteps is an application specifically designed to create software tutorials. It has everything you need packed in: screen capture, image notation, links, and text. Because it’s designed specifically for the purpose of creating tutorials, it’s super easy to use.

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When in doubt, ask a real person

"Archivists are Hot," by katherine of chicago. And they are!
"Archivists are Hot," by katherine of chicago. And they are!

Web-based research is great and all, but sometimes nothing beats talking to a real person. One of my favorite tricks when researching an obscure topic (like a certain kind of microphone) is to pick up the phone and call someone. In my experience, if you get in touch with the right person, he or she will be really excited to talk with someone who’s genuinely interested in the topic. And even though I’m shy and sometimes have trouble with the phone, I always end up really glad I made the effort to talk instead of email.

That’s why I love this resource: the Directory of Corporate Archivists in the United States and Canada. What could be more fun than geeking out on the phone with just the right person?

Beyond Bullet Points, or maybe not

I’ve been thinking about PowerPoint lately, and about how I might use it productively.

It seems pretty clear that the blizzard-of-bullet-points method is not useful. Who can make sense of such tiny print so quickly? What’s the point of slapping bullet points on a screen?

Why I Hate Most PowerPoint Lectures, by fling93. I have to admit, though, that I feel for this professor. The poor guy put so much work into his slide!
"Why I Hate Most PowerPoint Lectures," by fling93. I have to admit, though, that I feel for this professor. The poor guy put so much work into his slide!

One popular alternative method is the one Cliff Atkinson advocates in the book Beyond Bullet Points. Atkinson has two basic suggestions. First, he argues that a single, dominating image, plus a trigger word or two is the best approach for any single slide. Second, he advocates crafting a presentation as a narrative, with a clear, logical, problem-resolution structure.

Here’s the thing that bothers me about that, though. Continue reading “Beyond Bullet Points, or maybe not”