A dead-simple weekly email: A little workflow for bringing people together

UCLA’s Digital Humanities program, which I coordinate, is interdisciplinary in the extreme. Unlike some other programs, which sit in English or History departments, UCLA DH is an entity unto itself: a standalone minor and graduate certificate housed within the division of the humanities. In a lot of ways, this is great: We have no particular allegiance to any one department, and our students and faculty come from all over the university.

But they’ve all got a lot of stuff going on, and in many cases, they see their primary home as a different department. (I’m the only person at UCLA who’s dedicated full-time to the DH academic program.) We don’t have a dedicated community space just for the DH program, and while I organize as many events as I can on our limited budget, people just don’t have a ton of time to hang out or attend events.

And yet part of my job is to create a sense of community for the program. What to do?

I’m still working on it, but I have come up with one modestly successful tool: a weekly email digest that gathers events, job opportunities, fellowships, CFPs, and resources relevant to UCLA digital humanities, prefaced by a little introduction from me.

Here’s what one looks like.

This is why I do it:

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Embarrassments of riches: Managing research assets

Last updated May 15, 2013

There’s research, there’s writing, and then there’s that netherworld in between: wrangling all the digital files you gather over the course of your work. Digital files are often easier to deal with than stacks of paper, but they can also proliferate frighteningly quickly.

I teach a workshop on this topic, catchily titled Managing Research Assets (better names welcome). Below is a digital version of the workshop handout, followed by a link dump of my favorite posts about developing and refining digital research workflows. You can also download a PDF version of my handout, or a Word version if you’d like to modify it.

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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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Zoom in and out of presentations with Prezi

prezi-logo1Prezi is a presentation maker (still in beta) that avoids the standard linear slideshow model. Instead, you can zoom in and out of one big presentation, hopping between ideas however you want. Here’s an example of Prezi in action.

I like the ability to escape the rigid structure of the PowerPoint presentation, and this seems like an answer to Edward Tufte’s criticisms of the pedantic linearity of PowerPoint. But the free version has a 100 MB storage limit, is not embeddable, comes watermarked with the Prezi logo, and stores your presentation online. You can purchase premium versions, but I’m not sure many people who already have PowerPoint or Keynote installed will shell out.

Plus, I’m so anal about orchestrating presentations that I don’t like to leave room for any deviation. I know, it’s not very Tufte-ian, but I’ve seen too many people left totally speechless after a software glitch. So while I’d play around with Prezi in class, I think I’ll wait ’til it’s totally stable and more prevalent to use it for a big presentation.

(Via Lifehacker.)

Make a quick timeline with Google News Timeline

Here’s a kind of fun new visualization tool from GoogleLabs. Google News Timeline lets you search for a topic (after you pick a category) and then arrays significant events on a timeline. I don’t really understand how the Wikipedia category works, and I wouldn’t trust the timeline to have every relevant piece of information, but, hey, it did a good job spitting out Hitchcock movies. (Via Google Operating System.)

Hitchcock timeline from Google News Timeline
Hitchcock timeline from Google News Timeline

Dropbox: Sync and share files across multiple desktops


If you work on multiple computers, you probably need a way to get ahold of your files and documents. You could email them to yourself, put them on a USB drive, or use a file server, but it might be easier to use a free service called Dropbox. This service allows you to stick a folder on each of your computers. Whenever you drop a file or document in your Dropbox folder, it’s synced onto every computer where Dropbox is installed.

The cool part is that Dropbox updates whenever you make a change to your documents, so you know you’re working on the latest version. It also allows you to access your files and documents through a Web interface, and it even allows you to recover documents you’ve deleted or changed.

You can also use Dropbox to share files with other users, so it might be a good solution for a collaborative project or to share photos. It works on both Windows and Mac. I learned about Dropbox through Pattern Recognition, whose owner uses the service to set his desktop wallpaper across multiple machines.