Saturday, August 13, 2005

Jay's Infrastructure

I'm devoting almost full time to researching and writing Informal Learning, so it made sense to set up a computing environment that suppports what I hope to learn and accomplish.

I am trying to change the world by helping people learn. I am dedicated to helping them become more effective in their work and happy in their lives. My calling is to spread the adoption of practical ideas through writing, speaking, teaching, and selling ideas.

The book is but an artifact of a long journey. Informal Learning will be at best a post card from my trip, a snapshot that freezes me swimming in a continuous flow of learning, discoveries, and interaction. A stream of artifacts, a moving picture show, will sprout up on the internet to enable visitors to explore the landscape more thoroughly.

Listen closely and you may hear the footsteps of the revolutionaries ushering in a replacement for the industrial age and the notion that we're in total control of what goes on. The two-way web, where people not only harvest but also plant new ideas, is being born, and it will shove the take-it-or-leave-it world of one-way books and scholarship in the dust.

My primary hard disk crashed last week. It was kind enough to give me some advance notice, so I didn't lose much. The crash probably did me a favor, for it gave me the equivalent of a vacant lot on which to build a new house.

Skip ahead if you don't enjoy looking at construction projects to see how things are built. Otherwise, join me for a quick tour of my new hard disk. I personally find it enlightening to look in other people's toolboxes.


For connecting to the outside world, the browser of choice is currently Firefox. It's fast, extensible, logical, and open source. I'm still angry that Microsoft, found guilty of cutting off Netscape's air supply, stopped investing in Internet Explorer the moment they'd snuffed their competitor.

Blogs, at first handmade, have been my megaphone to the world since 1994. My first connection was with O'Reilly's Internet-in-a-Box, and I've been on the web ever since. Currently I use Blogger. Google offers the software and online hosting for free. It's easy to use. I'm sort of a Johnny Appleseed when it comes to Blogging, and I use Blogger because it's the easiest on-ramp for new converts.

For communications, I use Skype because it's effortless and free. I sometimes use Instant Messenger, but frankly, I don't like to be interrupted. Email is a mixed bag. I've been using Gmail since it came out, primarily because since it's web-based, I never need to synchronize. It's convenient to have everything in one place. By the way, and I know this is heresy to many of you, I detest Outlook and have not used it since it asked if I wanted to back-up and answered my assent by destroying two years' worth of email. Why on earth did they make backing up so obscure? Why store every email in one monster file? And why is that file in some arcane format? Argh.

For building websites, I use Macromedia Dreamweaver. I have my head around it and know of nothing better. As of this writing, I have yet to install it because a new version just came out and I'd prefer to begin there.


My operating system is Windows XP Pro, simply because it's the lingua franca of most of the people I deal with. Were I a graphic designer, I'd use Apple, and if a hacker, I'd run Linux or BSD. But most of my work is with corporations or individuals, and Windows has captured their loyalty.

For simple editing, I use UltraEdit 32. Microsoft NotePad is a snail by comparison. I installed Active Words this morning but haven't put it through its paces yet.

Processing Words, Ideas, and Pictures

For word processing, I use Open Office, the free alternative to Microsoft Office, the major difference between the two being about $500 (because Open Office is free). I also use Word 2002, because it has a gigantic feature-set, including indexing and outline-view, which an author really needs.

For reminders and keeping track of life's little details, I use InfoSelect. InfoSelect is a tool without a category. Essentially, you can enter text, graphics, web addresses, and what-not willy-nilly into a searchable database. If I want to know Jerry's phone number, I enter g-Jerry (for get-Jerry) and the number appears. Or I might enter "FTP settings" or "Noble interview" or "restaurants" to retrieve pages with those entries. I could not live with InfoSelect. It's a chaos processor.

For thought processing, MindManager 5, is indispensible. I use it to brainstorm new projects visibly. The way my mind works, a picture lets me grok relationships immediately, and the ability to move things around is like being able to rearrange text with a word processor.

For quick summaries, I turn to Copernic Summarizer. Point it at a Word document or an Adobe pdf file, and very rapidly, it will produce a summary, short or long. This is not a substitute for reading full text, but it's a wonderful way to decide whether or not something's worth reading. Often, I discover there's nothing new in a document so I can easily skip it.

For photography, Google's free Picasa stores my photos. I also use it for simple tweaking. For heavier editing or drawing, I turn to PaintShop Pro 8, a dandy Photoshop work alike. Lately I've been storing many of my photos on FlickR.

References & Resources

Bookmarks were becoming an issue. For many years, I've posted directories of my favorite links, both for my own use and to share the wealth with others. My eLearning Jump Page has been around longer than eLearning. I have bookmarks stored the usual way, in my browser, spread across four machines here at home. I have Spurl'd and Furl'd links. What to do? I'm using With, I can save the coordinates of any web page and (here's the magic) a set of tags. The tags are informal metadata. If anyone in the Delicious network asks to see InternetTime informal learning, they'll see all the URLs referenced in the book. Soon, I'll have a single, consolidated database of bookmarks.

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