Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Indispensible Electronic Resources

I have a number of friends who I try to update whenever I find a nifty new electronic resource. As a professor, I have specific needs and limited budget. So, accomplishing some tasks requires some creativity. I thought I would put together my list of electronic resources that I absolutely can't live without.

  1. CutePDF—Pdf has become the standard document format on the web, and, sometimes, you need to produce a pdf file. OpenOffice does have a "convert to pdf" button, but on occasion the spacing just doesn't work right. CutePDF installs like a printer on your machine. If it is a program you can print from, it is a program that can create a pdf. The appearance is perfect. I have never had a problem with it, and I have been using for years. Oh yeah, and it's free.
  2. Dropbox—Just discovered Dropbox a few months ago, and now I can't live without it. Like so many people, I find myself working from a number of different computers. To rectify that problem, I had been using a flash drive. Dropbox creates a folder on your local hard drive that is synchronized with as many computers as you install dropbox on. So, the paper I was working on at the office is the version on my home computer (and my wife's laptop). The copies are local so you don't have to be connected to the web to access the files, they are simply synchronized the next time you connect. You can also access your files via the Web if you are away from your computer (or download the iPhone app). It's free for 2GB, and if you invite friends to join, you and your friend receive an extra 250MB up to a maximum of 10GB. My dropbox folder is now 6.3GB. If you follow this link it will be more J
    Dropbox referral
  3. OpenOffice—Most people know about open office. It is the open source suite of programs that allow you to do word processing/powerpoint/excel without the nasty Microsoft price (OpenOffice as the name implies is free). GoogleDocs might give OpenOffice a run in the "free word processors" dept, but ONE feature makes OpenOffice indispensible. That is. . .
    1. OpenOffice Convert PDF extension—one of the needs we often have is to edit PDF file. Open office will import a pdf file and convert it to its version of a "Publisher" file. You can add and move around text, then print (using CutePDF) to preserve the formatting.
  4. PDFSam—once you create all those pdf files you might need to combine (or split some). I use the freeware program PDFsam (which stands for "Split and Merge"). Pretty intuitive program.
  5. LibraryThing—Like most professors, I am a bibliophile. I have a huge library, and if something happened to it, I am not sure what I would tell the insurance company. Library thing lets you keep an index of your books online. Just enter ISBN#/LC number/title/author/something and it will search to find the right book. You can index 200 books for free. For $25 you can have a lifetime membership with unlimited books. I would also spring for the $15 bar code scanner that can scan your books into the system. Multiple users can create groups which can list their books together.
  6. Logmein—I am the computer expert in the family. However, the family is spread over the county, and talking someone through a computer repair is pretty tough. Logmein allows you to remotely access your home/office/Mom's/Mom-in-law's computer (provided you have set it up on that computer). It is free to access the computers. For a fee, you can share clipboards and drag and drop files. I haven't needed anything that advanced, so the free version works for me.
  7. Google Calendar—As a family, we have entered the age of piano practice/football practice/drama practice/basketball practice—not to mention the schedule that my wife and I have to keep. With Google calendar, you can each have your own calendar. It will sync with outlook, and it has saved our bacon this last year.
  8. Picasa—Solid/free image manipulating software. It will resize before mailing to whatever size YOU determine. It scans your disks to find all your pictures. The facial recognition software is addicting. It will also teach you things you never knew about your family . . . like how much your son looks like your grandfather . . .
  9. Browser Wars: Chrome or Firefox. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The most indispensible feature for me is the ability to sync bookmarks. Chrome comes with the ability to sync. Firefox will sync if you install the "Firefox Sync" add-on. So no matter what computer you are working on, your bookmarks will all be the same.
  10. Snopes—A must have for anyone in ministry with an email address. How many well-meaning students/church members have sent email which have been "sent from a friend" warning about the secret recording in which Obama predicted the end of the world in 2012 when you spell his Hawaiian birth name backwards in Hebrew . . . Snopes is a urban legend debunker. It will give you the vocabulary to gently inform those well-intentioned, but sadly gullible, emailers.

Bonus for Procrastinators!

  1. StumbleUpon—After a hard day of staring at the computer, you sometimes need to find a way to kill time. StumbleUpon lets you set up your interests, and it will randomly select a website. It is like channel surfing the internet. I will warn you VERY addictive.
  2. Live Mocha—But what if you want to procrastinate by doing something productive? Go to and learn a language. The lessons are set up inductively (like Rosetta Stone), but many of the lessons are free. And it is productive procrastination.


  1. Zotero—To make this a baker's dozen, I will add one thing that I have not had a lot of time to use yet. That said, it might have the potential to jump to the top of this list very soon. Zotero is an extension for Firefox (making the web browser selection pretty easy). It will grab bibliographic data from searches and insert it into Word in the correct style (APA, SBL, MLA, Turabian . . . whatever you select). It has many of the features of EndNote, but like so many things on this list, Zotero is free. It generates Bibliography, keeps copies of pdfs… I haven't had time to use it much yet, but I think that as I start using it for research, it will be a must have.

I am by no means an expert, but these have saved me time and effort. I would be remiss if I didn't pass them on!