New Feature: Tools I Use

I’m preparing to teach a First Year Course this Fall semester.  It will be my first time teaching such a course, and as such, I am expected to mold and productively deform young minds, a task I consider both impossible deeply enjoyable.  One of the many things I will have to encourage my students to do is become better consumers and users of appropriate technologies for scholarship. Appropriate is one of the key terms in there, by the way; I do not think that it is always better to have a high-technology tool for keeping a basic, daily, to-do list, for instance (though your mileage, as always, may vary).  But it’s true that my attitude towards technology can be summed up in this epigram:

I appreciate technology; I prefer technique

This will be a work in progress, and I’m likely to focus on one tool every time I post something to this category (“Tools I Use”). But before I move on to such a discussion of Jing in my next post in this category, here’s my first attempt at a list of some of the many tools I personally use and rely upon in my work, and which I recommend to students or other researchers.  If you’re interested in one of the tools particularly, let me know in the comments, and I’ll write that tool up earlier than the others.

[wherever I can below, I have avoided linking directly to a retailer of these items, and instead chosen reviews]


  • Fisher Bullet Pen – I’m always writing things down, and always finding it difficult to use my pen, when it’s not one of these, which can write in the dampest of conditions, on paper that’s soaked in humidity, upside-down. Plus, they fit in my pocket without the slightest discomfort.  Only problem? They keep getting taken by admirers.
  • Hipster PDA – This low-tech approach to personal organization and clearing my mind of all those nagging, administrative thoughts, revolutionized my organization and made me appear far more responsible and organized than I ‘really’ am.
  • Small Moleskine ruled notebook – when it’s part of a much bigger, long-term project, sometimes it doesn’t belong in the Hipster PDA, but isn’t quite ready to be typed up yet, either. In those cases, it probably belongs in my moleskine notebook, into which I cut notches, as in a dictionary.
  • GTD-style folder ‘tickler’ calendar – this low-tech approach also has helped me meet many a deadline that wasn’t my ‘top-priority,’ but still needed to be attended to.
  • Cornell-style notetaking – Learn how to take notes you will actually use after you’ve written them.
  • Earplugs. – The world is loud. It doesn’t need to be, and earplugs are small.


  • Macbook Pro – I like Apple’s products.  I’ve been comfortable in VAX/VMS, UNIX, LINUX, DOS, and the Mac OS, and for my needs and skill level, the Apple stuff is the best.
  • iPad2 – And while I’m usually opposed to early adoption, I did finally break down and buy an iPad. I actually read an enormous amount more than I thought I would, as a result.
  • Nikon Coolpix s3000 – You need photos of fieldwork and family. This is a competent camera.  I would like to know much much more about my options.
  • Olympus WS-110 Digital Voice Recorder – This is a very good recorder. It amazes me frankly, because it hardly seems revolutionary now, but in 2003, when I started my fieldwork, I had to purchase nearly $500 worth of relatively fancy equipment, just to be able to take high-quality sound recordings on a mini-disc recorder.  Not only that, but I then had to re-record the entire interview in real time to my laptop so I could clean up recorded background noise, etc., because Sony (the manufacturer of the Minidisc technology) refused to make it compatible with digital formats (i.e., direct digital upload).  Now where is your mighty minidisc, Sony? mwahahahaha.
Software – Pay
  • Microsoft Word – I hate it just as much as you do, but currently, it is the de facto standard, and increasingly normalized in academic review and edits of manuscripts. You have to use it, and know it.
  • Transcriva 2 – This is a godsend of a tool for interviewers.  Open up an audio file and you can create a transcription that is time-stamped to particular parts of the file, creating multiple characters for the interview, complete with keyboard controls to manage playback speed, rewind options, etc.
  • EndNote – You need a reference manager. You’ve already forgotten the name of that book you read last semester.  This will save you time, but it costs money. There are other, free options, like Zotero, but so far, I’m still using EndNote.
  • OmniOutliner – Brilliant.  Simple, and brilliant, this outlining software, or something like it, should be used in composition classes to assist students learn about the potential behind treating your writing as a flexible argument you can alter, experiment, or play with. If I don’t start a new article in OmniOutliner, I usually have to spend twice as long later in the writing process to figure out what I’m really trying to say.
  • iPhoto – You need a photo management software tool.  This comes with your Macintosh, and I guess it’s okay.
  • Powerpoint – You need a presentation software tool. This is the standard. Though I prefer Keynote, this is going to be a necessary tool to learn.
  • Jing – This is exciting, and new for me.  The free version allows for video screen capture along with audio recording, so that I can give my students feedback on their writing assignments by talking at my computer while I scroll through their paper, pointing out examples, and giving much more, much more specific, feedback.
  • Evernote – Still learning how to use this powerful tool academically, I’m currently trying to collect manuscript notes with it.
  • Dropbox – Getting files between home and work. This free software does it for me.
Paid Online Services
  • Flickr – This is really a better photo-management tool than iPhoto, but I still use iPhoto for desktop-based management.  Also, Flickr makes you pay for unlimited storage.

One thought on “New Feature: Tools I Use

  1. Dr. Davis.
    This is a great section–very helpful and informative. Jing sounds awesome, I am going to check it out…same with omnioutliner.
    Keep ’em comin.

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