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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 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.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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