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4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

4 Random Tips to Get More Done with Your PC

Get More Done with Your PC

    I’ve had several challenges in the last couple weeks, some of which required some creative solutions. Since some of you might find yourself facing the same challenges at some point, I thought I’d share this motley collection of tips with you.

    Jott to Evernote

    If you read Joel’s post, 7 Ways to Use Evernote last month, you already know how useful the new version of Evernote can be. Although it’s still in closed beta (email me if you need an invite; 1st 12 people only! All gone!), Evernote is well on its way to become the premiere note-taking and web-clipping app, synchronizing across your computer, your mobile devices, and the Web.

    But what if you want to add a note when you can’t login and type something up? Maybe you’re dribing, you don’t have web access on your phone, or the thought of keying in a note on your phone’s 10-key keypad fills you with dread.

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    Turns out, you can Jott it.

    Jott is a messaging service with voice recognition – you all the Jott number from your mobile phone, leave a message, and Jott transcribes it to text and forwards it to your desired recipient. I’ve written before about the many ways you can use Jott, but at the time I had some trouble using it’s Jott-to-email functions to interface with other services.

    Well, I tried again last night, and it worked. Here’s what you do:

    1. Login to Evernote’s website, click “Settings”, and copy your Evernote email address.
    2. Login to Jott and click “Add Contacts” on the right-hand side.
    3. In the “Quick Add” screen, put “Evernote” as the First Name (or whatever you’ll want to call your Evernote account – try “Spanky the Elephant” if you feel like it) and paste your Evernote email address under the “Email” column.
    4. Click “Add”.

    Easy. When you call Jott, it will ask “Who do you want to Jott”, you’ll say “Evernote”, recite your message, and it will show up in Evernote a few minutes later.

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    But wait! Jott to Google Docs, too!

    As long as you’re adding contacts in Jott, you might want to add your Google Docs email address as well. Maybe you don’t like Evernote or tend to work a lot out of Google Docs. Or maybe you feel like sending an idea for a project you already have in Google Docs.

    Get your Google Docs email address by logging into Google Docs and clicking “Import”. Scroll down and you’ll see a monster email address in big, bold letters. Again, cut and paste it as a contact in Jott, add a name you’ll remember and Jott is liikely to recognize easily, and you’re good. Now you can send ideas straight into your word processor, wherever you have cellphone service.

    Export Audio from PowerPoint

    Who doesn’t love PowerPoint?

    OK, OK, put your hands down. Anyway, PowerPoint (PPT) has a neat feature where you can record a narration while you click through the slides, and you can save the timings so that PPT will advance from slide to slide automatically.

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    Unfortunately, PPT’s narration is saved in WAV format – uncompressed audio. The 30-minute presentation I recorded recently was 110 MB! If you’ve ever tried to send a 110 MB file to someone, you already see the problem. Can’t be done – and while there are some good services like drop.io for sending large files, it’s still a bit of a pain.

    I didn’t want to email it to anyone, I wanted to upload it to SlideRocket (still in beta; no invites) so I could embed it into a web page.

    So what I needed to do was extract the audio, compress it to MP3, upload it and the new MP3s, and re-embed the audio from within SlideRocket.

    Turns out, getting the audio out was a piece of cake. All you have to do is “Save As” HTML. The slides will be worthless after you do this (unless they’re really basic) but you’ll get a folder of support files, including your narration broken into an individual WAV file for each slide.

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    I used RazorLame, a free front-end to the equally free LAME mp3 encoder, to convert the files to MP3s at 32 kbps – good enough for voice narration – which reduced the overall size to just under 11 MB.

    If I had been planning to email the presentation to someone, I could have simply replaced the existing audio on each slide with the new MP3. Instead, I uploaded everything to SlideRocket and did that on the site. Published to the Web, cut and paste my embed link, and my presentation was successfully embedded in a web page.

    Spellcheck and Word Count Everywhere

    Finally, here’s a neat little application I discovered recently that’s proven to be a big help. Enso Words provides system-wide spellcheck and word count for Windows XP and Vista systems. The program runs in the background and is called up with a simple keystroke combo to spellcheck or count the words in whatever text you have selected on the screen, in any program.

    By default, Enso Words takes over your Caps Lock key; Caps Lock+s will bring up the spellchecker, Caps Lock+w will bring up a word count. On some systems, mine included, Enso doesn’t interact well with the keyboard driver and the Caps Lock function will be activated and can’t be turned off. If this happens to you, just change the default to another key — I use the left-hand Windows key instead of Caps Lock, and that works fine.

    I use Enso Words several times a day, since I use a wide variety of programs to compile blog posts, academic work, ad copy, and other material, and I’d rather have a single interface for all of them. Enso Words is the little sibling of Enso Launcher, a system-wide app launcher that uses the same Caps Lock+shortcut approach to launch files, programs, and webpages. The two programs work well side-by-side; I find that I don’t use Launcher’s features much, so I just have Enso Words installed.

    Got a Random Tip?

    Have you found a handy application or useful way to do something recently? Tell me and the other readers about it in the comments!

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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