Archives for January 2007

What's the problem with all these GTD apps?

Recently there’s been a bunch of new OS X applications that are targeted at the Getting Things Done/project management crowd. These apps, which include EasyTask Manager, In Box, Operation, and Actiontastic, all have various pros and cons and I encourage you to check them out if you’re looking for productivity tools.

But I want to call out these apps and their developers for a highly annoying approach to data management that they all share. Each of these applications adopts what I call the “Address Book” model for storing user data.

This approach can be summed up at follows:

Contrast the Address Book model with the traditional file-based model that most applications (e.g. TextEdit, Word, Preview, Photoshop) use. Word opens any file you care to throw at it. Address Book opens only one file.

The benefit of this approach is one less decision for the user. Instead of having to worry about where to save a file containing, say, all your address data, Address Book decides for you. You start up the app and just start working.

The down side of this approach is that the application makes some pretty big assumptions: that a user only needs one dataset, and won’t ever need to work with the data on another computer. Those are really dubious assumptions.

There's more...
posted January 30, 2007 by eric | permalink | Add comment

Auto-saves coming in InqScribe 2.0

It’s so easy to forget to save when you get sucked into a rhythm of transcribing or video analysis. Everyone has their own techniques, but I like to save files with progressively numbered names, so that I have older versions in case I need to go back to a previous incarnation, or in case the latest file gets corrupted, e.g. “ClassAlpha_v1.inqscr” and “ClassAlpha_v2. inqscr”. I do this with all of my software work: Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, etc. Each day gets a new name, and I’m in the habit of hitting Command/Ctrl-S every 5 minutes.

To make life a little easier, we’ll be adding an auto-save/auto-backup feature in InqScribe 2.0, to be released shortly (You can buy now, and upgrade for free). But don’t let that stop you from saving frequently!

posted January 22, 2007 by ben | permalink | Add comment

Learning to Think Spatially

Via the latest ArcNews, I see that the National Research Council has published a new report, Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. You can buy the book via the NRC site or read it online.

The report seems to have originated as a study of GIS (think ArcView or MyWorld) in K-12, which isn’t surprising considering the project sponsors: ESRI, USGS, NASA, NSF, and the National Geographic Society. But the committee expanded its scope to address spatial thinking in general. Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction.

The title of the proposal for this report was Support for Thinking Spatially: The Incorporation of Geographic Information Science Across the K-12 Curriculum. Given the need for increased scientific and technological literacy in the workforce and in everyday life, we must equip K-12 graduates with skills that will enable them to think spatially and to take advantage of tools and technologies — such as GIS (geographic information systems) (see Box 1.3) — for supporting spatial thinking. Therefore, the charge contained two questions, the first of which was intended to generate recommendations for levels of technology (hardware and software), system supports (e.g. teaching materials), curriculum scope and sequence (e.g. the role of necessary precursors), and pre-service and in-service training, while the second was intended to generate recommendations based on an assessment of theoretical and empirical approaches, in psychology and education, relevant to the development of knowledge and skills that underpin the use of GIS.

However, the committee recognized that the charge could not be met without first addressing the educational role of spatial thinking itself. New and better support tools for education — such as GIS — may well be necessary and appropriate, but to what purpose and in what contexts? The answer might seem obvious from the proposal title: to support spatial thinking across the K-12 curriculum. However, such a response points to a fundamental question: Why — and where — do we need to support spatial thinking across the K-12 curriculum? Why shoudl we invest in better GIS or other support tools? What is the role of spatial thinking in everyday life, the workplace, and science?

After learning to appreciate the fundamental importance of spatial thinking, the committee came to a new understanding of the charge. Questions about the current role and future development of GIS as a support system could be answered satisfactorily only after the societal and therefore educational need for spatial thinking, and the ways in which we learn to think spatially, were understood.

Therefore, the committee developed an understanding of two additional questions: (1) What are the nature and character of spatial thinking? (2) How does the capacity for spatial thinking develop and how might it be fostered systematically by education and training? This revision to the committee charge was approved by the National Research Council (NRC) and met with consent from the project sponsors.

Update: this isn’t that new, as Matt noted last year. But it’s still worth a look.

posted January 06, 2007 by eric | permalink | Add comment

Archiving CDs and DVDs

Lots of folks warn about using CD-R and DVD-R for permanent archiving, because the lifespan of optical media isn’t necessarily that long. But if you are storing things on optical media that you’ll want to access down the road, it’s worth reading this article about how to choose archival media. If nothing else, it reminded me that buying super cheap CD-Rs on a spindle can be a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach.

posted January 04, 2007 by eric | permalink | View comment

Roger Schank is blogging!

Love him or hate him, you can always count on him to raise some hackles. Check out Roger Schank’s Blog. He even does a bit of commenting!

posted January 03, 2007 by ben | permalink | Add comment

Yale's Web Style Guide needs help

Yale’s Web Style Guide seems to be a highly regarded resource (they were recommended by Tufte, apparently). It even has a page on “Teaching”. An excerpt:


Good teaching applications are also built around a strong central narrative, but they typically offer more opportunities to pursue interesting digressions from the main themes of the Web site. The information presented is usually more sophisticated and in-depth than in training applications. Links are the most powerful aspect of the Web, but they can also be a distraction that may prevent visitors from getting through the presentation. If you wish to provide links to other Web-based resources beyond your local site, you might consider grouping the links on a separate page away from the main body of the material. Often readers will want to print material from a teaching site and read it later from paper. Make this easy for them by providing a “printing” version that consolidates many separate pages into one long page.

Oh wait, that wasn’t an exerpt, that was the whole page. OK granted they can’t go into an incredible amount of detail, but for goodness’ sake, at least use bullets!

posted January 03, 2007 by ben | permalink | Add comment