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How to Deal When Your Favorite Application Goes Down

How to Deal When Your Favorite Application Goes Down

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    I use a lot of free online services every day, along with a few applications I downloaded from the web. There are a few that I really can’t get any work done without: all my email goes to Gmail, I use Scribefire to write each of my blog posts and I’m constantly using Twitter to do research. I particularly like web-based applications because I can switch computers without a problem.

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    Despite the benefits of using all these great applications, though, sometimes something goes wrong. Last week, for instance, ScribeFire 3.2 came out. I updated and got back to writing blog posts. When I went to publish, though, nothing happened. Something had broken with the update. The folks at ScribeFire got things fixed up in a hurry, releasing version 3.2.1, but it’s a good reminder to have a plan of action in place if you rely on an application that you have only minimal control over.

    Putting Together That Plan

    Sometimes you’ll try to access a service that normally works just fine — but there will be some sort of hiccup in the process. A hiccup doesn’t always mean that something has gone wrong with the service you’re using, though: there can be a problem at your end just as easily as there can be a passing problem. Assuming the issue doesn’t resolve itself immediately, it’s worth checking to see whether other people are having the same issue.

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    My initial plan has two parts. First, I visit DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com. Just type in the site that you’re having problems with on the front page and you’ll get an immediate response on whether the site is up or down. It’s an extremely simple approach, useful as an initial check. My second stop is usually Twitter. Many Twitter users have gotten into the habit of posting about their problems with applications almost immediately. Visiting Search.Twitter.com and looking for a specific application name can give you a good idea of who’s having problems.

    In many cases, Twitter offers a much better over all view — especially if there is a problem with an application with a working website. For ScribeFire, for instance, DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com didn’t really help me. ScribeFire.com was certainly still up with no problems, but when I checked Twitter, I could see quickly that other bloggers were seeing the same issue.

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    Getting A Solution

    Knowing what isn’t working doesn’t always help you that much. You may be okay with a site or service being down for a little while if you have a backup of your data on your own computer, but not too many of us are actually as good about backing up data as we ought to be. In most cases, though, not being able to access services that we’ve come to rely on can be a bit of a problem.

    I make a point of trying to find out if the service provider has made any sort of announcement before doing anything else. Depending on what kind of service we’re talking about, such an announcement could be on a blog, on Twitter, sent out in an email or even placed on someone’s personal website. More than few times, I’ve seen announcements that amount to, “Yes, we know the service is down. Please stop emailing us and let us focus on fixing it.” If I see something like that, I figure that I need to just try to switch to working without that particular service or application for the time being.

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    Other sites will share things that users can do, like installing a new plugin or using a different URL. Occasionally, you even run into websites that don’t even mention that there’s a problem with the service. When that’s the situation, I typically look for an email address that will let me connect to the help department or someone else that can update me on the situation.

    I’ve talked to some people who don’t feel that it’s appropriate to email a person or company that offers a free service, asking why that service isn’t working. The reasoning is that when we use free web applications and other tools, we run the risk of them not working. I strongly disagree. When I couldn’t find information about how to get ScribeFire back up and running, I fired off an email. I got a great response: within a day, I had a response including a link to the new upgrade. It has always been my experience that even if a service is free, you can get plenty of help from the service provider.

    Waiting Out Downtime

    When you rely on a service and you’re not interested in making the switch to another option — whether the question is expense, hassle or something else — sometimes the only real option is to wait out the downtime. Even if your most important documents or data is inaccessible because some website is down, there may not be anything you can do. Even contacting the site doesn’t always help — and a rude or angry email might do more harm than good.

    Downtime comes with putting a good portion of your work in the cloud. The only way to avoid it is to work only on programs installed on your own computer (and even then, it isn’t guaranteed). It’s worth having a side project that you can work on if a web application, online service or even the power that runs your computer goes down.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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