Save time and money by dictating your 1st draft

If you are in school, but some sort of academic, you know that time is precious. One of the ways that I’ve learned to save time in school school especially around all the writing that has to happen, is to use speech recognition software to dictate simple content, or my spoken presentations. Actually, I’m using Dragon dictate to post this blog.

Generally speaking, I do not recommend paying for software when in school. There are too many free options out there for everything we need. But dictation has saved me a lot of time and energy on a variety of projects. Dragon dictation is available for both Mac and PC, even your iPhone, and it’s incredibly easy to use. I purchased the software directly from the company, and bought my own Bluetooth wireless headset, he is my computer. All told, I spent $160. But how exactly did that does this save money.

As a graduate student, I built my hours either at $20 an hour, $40 an hour, or $100 an hour, depending on the project and customer I’m working with. This translates to either one day of work or 3 days of work for the cost of the software and a headset.   Once I took the plunge, I noticed that when I work on projects for clients or professors, I tend to write my drafts in a fraction of the time.  I start with an outline and key phrases, then go at it…. before I know it I have pages of key text, ready for editing and citations (though sometimes I add those, too).

Though dictation may not be for everyone, I certainly have found it to be extremely useful. I hope this little trick can save you time on your next 1st draft.

25 free net based applications to use in school

A benefit of being a scholar is that education and production of academic work can happen outside of the classroom.  Netbooks are making the transition to remote work easier, but why spend a bundle on software that takes up valuable space on your netbooks hard drive and costs a fortune?

Here are my top 25 free net based applications to use in school:

  • Gmail – Everyone should have gmail.  And forget the folder system of 1990.  Follow the three box system and Get Everything Done.
  • GoogleDocs – Google Documents.  Store it all here and and always have access.
  • Google Voice -Since its free, its an easy way to call anyone.
  • Backboard – Dofferent from the Blackboard for education, this blackboard lets you share reports and drafts before you publish them.
  • EndnoteWeb – Students and scholars use citations in everything we write.  Endnote is the leading citation manager and also has a free web version.

  • Picasa – a great place to store (and share) photos for class.
  • RememberTheMilk – Best web based to-do list manager out there.  set up a list per class and you will never forget anything.
  • Plagiarism DetectPlagarism detection.  Also a good way to make sure you are citing appropriately.
  • WriteCheck –  A second plagarism detection site… for professors that are extra concerned about students that seem to have an instantly larger and poetic vocabulary.
  • Evernote – store everything here.  Evernote automatically indexes what you have making it easier to find.
  • Flickr – another great storage site for photos and videos.
  • Pandora –  this keeps you sane while you work
  • Wimba Pronto -a great way to hold office hours with students
  • Skype -one of many basic video and voice services you need to communicate when off site.
  • Video Ant – Add text annotation to video.  This may seem new, but students love it.
  • TED Applications – Need an interesting topic or video for a presentation?  TED can rescue you.
  • RefWorks -A popular reference manager
  • Toms Planner – a must have Gantt planner for large projects (including earning a PhD.

  • OpenOffice – the best alternative to Microsoft Word
  • Amazon – self publish your work and earn cash from your sales.
  • Amazon Cloud Storage – 5 Gigs of free storage.  fantastic.
  • DropBox – sync material between computers.  A great resource for sharing large files
  • -lets you share material
  • FaxZero – a great site to use when you need to send the occasional fax.
  • Wiggio – Is a free version of Basecamp, that is good for coordinating projects.  I’ve used in large million dollar research grants and while it lacks some tools, its growing daily (and offers free conference calling)

Do you use other cloud-based services or have one that I can review? If you do, please comment!

Earn extra income by teaching online

Online education, or distance education, is booming and nearly every major university now offers online courses.  Several top tier institutions are even considering expanding their online offerings in order to pay for increasingly crucial administrative support staff.  I’ve been teaching online for 5 years now and have enjoyed meeting new students as well as the benefits of the additional income.  In the coming years I suspect I will be asked to teach online, full time.

Online education provides an excellent source of additional income per semester.  Non-tenured instructors can earn and extra at least an extra $2,500 per course, enough to cover a coffee habit for the entirety of graduate school, a new Mac or PC, or a trip out of the country.  Once a course is designed and set up, the same material can be used semester after semester, minimizing prep time and maximizing the return on time spent on initial course development.

Students and faculty regularly ask me “how do I teach online??  The process is not simple, but it does take some time to learn how to teach online.  Interested graduate students and junior faculty can take a couple of simple steps to make the transition to online education:

  1. Hold a Masters Degree.  A masters degree, either in hand or to be completed by the time instruction starts, is usually required before instruction can begin.  This means that if you are working on a masters degree you can apply to teach and start putting your class together.  Just be sure the dean of the college you plan to teach at knows you will have your MA by the time instruction begins.
  2. Earn a Blackboard Certification.  Blackboard, now in its ninth version, is the standard teaching platform for online courses.  Learning how to teach with Blackboard, even if you have taken online courses as a student, requires some time.  Fortunately, most 4-year colleges and universities and almost all two year colleges, allow interested faculty to take a Blackboard Certification course for free.  If you tale this course you not only learn the minimum skills, but have an additional line on your resume that makes you stand out. 
  3. Redesign your courses for online education.   Before you apply for online education, take your favorite syllabus and redesign it for an online course.  Make new quizzes and exams, consider how you will present your lectures, and redesign discussion questions to have greater focus for a text driven discussion.  In doing so, you will start to understand some of the challenges you might face designed online courses.  This not only helps you with course design, but also gives you material to discuss during the job interview.
  4. Learn by doing and do something new each semester.  Online education can be fun and rewarding.  One of the best ways to learn how to teach is to teach.  Jump in and apply a new technique every semester.

Online education provides an excellent opportunity for graduate students and Jr. faculty to gain additional teaching income while expanding their income stream.  Have you taught online before?  What did you think about it and what are your suggestions for a new instructor?

Prep for Future Auto Repairs With these Simple Tips (Rather than Buying a New Car)

I am proud to say my Volvo has 160,000 miles on it and is still going strong.  At this point in the cars life its cheaper to make regular expected repair than pay for a new car (though I’m not sure for how long, so if you have tips for buying a car please post them below).  To keep the car running I’ve been practicing a few preventive measures.

  1. Regular maintenance such as oil changes are a must.  I never neglect regular maintenance… as they say, a stitch in time save your engine.  To help ensure regular oil changes I set up a recurring budget line on Mint to “save” some money every month for the oil change.  As a side note, I do not   get oil changes early either.  Getting one early is just a waste of money.
  2. To prepare for forthcoming repairs I searched out a good mechanic and tried him (or her, by the way) out with a small repair.  My thinking was that if he was good with a small repair he will be GREAT for a large one. SO far my mechanic has saved me major bucks simply because he is honest and charges a good rate.
  3. After finding a good mechanic ask him to examine your car bumper to pumper (and pay for his time, too).  After doing this he can tell you what repairs will happen in the next 6 months, a year or longer so that you can budget accoringly.  While this may scare some, I think of it as a way to plan for the future, not hide from it.
  4. Knowing what I will likely spend, I set up a savings account with automatic deposit for the pending repairs or unexpected repairs.  Now when the repairs come I’ll be ready for them, and in the meantime I’m earning interest on my funds.
So a new car will at least cost $200 a month.  Rather than pay for this cost I’m holding out my making repairs that work out to around $25-50 a month.  What do you think?  Is this a good idea?

Hike like a mad man (or woman)

I’ve been enjoying working my ass off on my dissertation (not really) and getting my ass kicked on the trail (really).  Hiking, as I have come to learn, is really fun, nearly free, and a challenge for both mind and body.  Last week I had my first challenging local hike up to the peak of the local mountains in my city.  We climbed nearly 2,500 feet in a fast paced 4.5 hours and enjoyed a breathtaking view of the city. Sitting at the top I realized that beginners need to know a few things before heading to the trail.  Fortunately, the American Hiking Society has a great list you should review before you hit the trails.

 1. Appropriate footwear. For a short day hike that doesn’t involve a heavy pack or technical terrain, basic low-cut trail shoes are great. For longer hikes, carrying heavier loads, or more technical terrain, hiking boots offer more support. Always wear good-quality wool or synthetic socks that wick the moisture away from your feet.

2. Map and compass/GPS. A map and compass not only tell you where you are and how far you have to go, they can help you find campsites, water, and an emergency exit route in case of an accident. While GPS units are very useful, always carry a map and compass as a backup.

3. Extra water and a way to purify it. Without enough water, your body’s muscles and organs simply can’t perform as well. Consuming too little water will not only make you thirsty, but susceptible to hypothermia and altitude sickness.

4. Extra food. Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: getting lost, enjoying time by a stream, an injury, or difficult terrain. Extra food with high nutritional value will help keep up energy and morale.

5. Rain gear and extra clothing. Because the weatherman is not always right. Dressing in layers allows you to adjust to changing weather and activity levels. Two rules: avoid cotton (it keeps moisture close to your skin) and always carry a hat.

6. Safety items: fire, light, and a whistle. The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help prevent hypothermia. Fires are also a great way to signal for help if you get lost. If lost, you’ll also want the whistle, because it is more effective than using your voice to call for help. (Use 3 short bursts.) And just in case you’re out later than planned, a flashlight/headlamp is a must-have item to see your map and where you’re walking.

7. First aid kit. Pre-packaged first aid kits for hikers are available at any outfitter. Double your effectiveness with knowledge: take a first aid class with the American Red Cross or a Wilderness First Aid class.

8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. These enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters, fix broken eyeglasses, and perform a whole host of repairs on malfunctioning gear.

9. Sun screen and sun glasses. Especially above treeline, where there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you’ll need sunglasses to prevent snow blindness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.

10. Daypack/backpack. You’ll want a well-fitted pack that you can carry comfortably. It should be outfitted with handy pockets and other features designed to keep you hiking smartly. Don’t forget the rain cover; some packs come with one built-in. Keep the other 10 Essentials of Hiking in the pack and you’ll always be ready to hit the trail safely.

Jet-Set $cholar: Essential Electronic Travel Gear

I travel frequently and enjoy the benefits of having good gear like my super sturdy Patagonia wheel bag.   I’ve come to appreciate a couple of other items that make travel and my overnight stays in hotels more comfortable. Today, I’m going to outline a couple of the electronic items that I use in my travels (and in future posts I’ll talk about the personal items that are a “must have” for the mind and soul).

First of all, in addition to my carry on luggage I always have a carry-on bag for small stuff. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to have a bag that you can also use when traveling in the city you’re visiting. I have a shoulder bag that was given to me as a gift, but in the past a had a messenger bag, backpack, and an old army satchel. In my carry-on bag and keep a small pouch with a couple of critical pieces of gear:

The Belkin Mini Surge Protector/Dual USB Charger is super useful for those times that you find yourself in the airport and need to work out some sort of power-sharing agreement. This particular power strip has USB ports which also allow charging of other electronic equipment such as cameras or iPhones.

To plug-in to the power strip I keep an extra Apple power cord that I only use for traveling. This is a rather pricey extra, as a second power cord cost about $80  (you can buy cheaper ones for $24-$40 but they do not last much, especially if you travel). I opted to buy an extra one simply because it was much easier to leave my power cord I work and not worry about getting it.  (I also have one at work and one at home… not having to move them means its less likely I’ll forget them… which I did often).

Headphones are a little trickier.  I’ve been rather happy with in-ear headphones, but I’m considering buying a set of Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancelling Headphones. The $300 price tag makes me hesitant.  Regardless, be sure to have an adapter (see left photo) for the headphones so they fit on an airplane’s two prong jack.

Normally I watch movies at home using my Roku. On the road I can either watch a hotel rental for $10, watch on my laptop or connect to a TV (and why not).  To do this I usually carry 2 adapters and a cable, one that connects to a LCD projector and one that connects as a Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter.   On a couple of occasions I’ve been lucky enough to call the front desk and see if you have an extra adapter HDMI cable, it usually depends on if the IT Department at the hotel is available and has one to share.

Finally, it goes without saying that I carry my iPhone and keep a charger in the bag as well.   While I hate having to pay $80 a month from my phone, I’ve grown to love the applications. In addition to the usual alarms and wake up calls, I often download the Lonely Planet Travel guide for the city I’m visiting, use to find local places to eat, and the map program to get around.

As a last resort, if I’m on the road and I realize I did not bring my electronic equipment I  usually call the concierge or the front desk to ask if one is in the lost and found bin. Being polite can actually get you gear for an overnight stay.  There are other items friends travel with on occasion, such as an  Apple Airport Express, Ethernet cable, and wireless mouse, but those are not essential.

 So what about you, what gear do you use when you travel? ))

Jet Set $cholar: The Perfect Travel Bags for Urban and Amazonian Travel

As a scholar I travel regularly… one week I may be in DC reviewing a grant, the next at a conference presenting a paper.  If I’m not at a conference I’m trying to get a cheap flight out of the country.  With so many trips under my belt I have started to appreciate high quality travel gear.  In my travels, domestic and international, business and pleasure, urban and super rural (like amazonian rural) two bags stand out because they are rugged and sized perfectly for cary on luggage (and who the heck wants to pay baggage fees).

The Patagonia MLC Wheelie (Black) and the Black Hole Duffel 90L, also by Patagonia. I know you may be thinking that Patagonia is expensive (which it is), but the gear is well worth the cost.  It has a lifetime warranty and can take a beating.

The first bag I recommend is the Patagonia MLC Wheelie (Black).  This is my go to bag for a short weekend trip, especially if my trip is international.  Its hard to see from this photo, but the bag has a main compartment, a wet or dry padded compartment, and two pickets (a hidden one and a front one).  The handle telescopes to tall and short positions, the wheels are durable and smooth, and the bag is rugged and perfect for high paced travel.  For the few times that I have to run to catch a flight I can take out two backpack straps and wear the pack jet-pack style. The bag costs $230, an expensive bag by any measure, but if you travel frequently and want a lifetime warranty, this is the bag for you.

I don’t own the the Black Hole Duffel 90L, but after getting a close up look at it from a fellow traveler I’m likely to get it before the summer.  At $125, the duffel is extremely affordable.  The bag is a no frills waterproof and cavernous bag that also makes good company if you want a durable bag (I know someone that uses this when they go to the Amazon!).  The bag comes with two internal mesh bags and several small zippered pockets and both handles and backpack straps.  This is a solid bag and one that makes a good compliment to the MLC mentioned above.

I’ll keep reviewing my travel tips and gear as we get close to the spring and summer travel season.  Keep your bags packed and see you on the next flight!