Category Archives: Tools

My Ongoing Search for the Perfect Twitter Client


I am growing increasingly frustrated with my Twitter client, but I can’t find one I like better. Here is what I need:

  • Mac compatibility.
  • A color scheme that isn’t too dark or too bright (both versions of the Tweetdeck theme are out as a result).
  • An unread messages count. Really I need this. It’s a deal-breaker, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Nambu despite being unhappy with their progress and development.
  • Multiple columns.
  • Notification of new tweets. I prefer Growl, but Air is OK.

Things I’d like to have:

  • Syncing across devices (an iPhone app, so my unread count is same on both).
  • Client rather than web-based (not a deal breaker—was checking out Hootsuite, but not a fan).

I wondered aloud to my husband a few minutes ago just how hard it would be to create a Twitter client that did what I wanted. I have never designed software before, but I am willing to learn. I have rolled up my sleeves and made myself learn HTML and Flash (though I can’t say I’m a proficient in Flash at all).

Out of curiosity—what would you want in a Twitter client?

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QR Codes

qrcodeWhat is a QR Code?

It’s a kind of bar code that encodes information in a square like the one you see to the left, which is a QR Code for this website. “QR” stands for “Quick Response.” You can learn more about these codes at Wikipedia.

How can I read them?

These codes can be read by cell phones, so you will need an application. I found a list of QR Readers here, and if you have an iPhone or an Android, you can search their app stores for QR Code Readers. I use an app called Red Laser (iTunes link) to read QR Codes.

What can you do with QR Codes?

I’ve been learning about them for a couple of months, and while I can’t claim I have an exhaustive list of ideas for how to use them, I have a few.

  1. Put them on handouts or make stickers for textbooks. Students can scan the codes to learn more information about any topic. You can embed links to any website. Yes, you can also include the URL, but the QR Code will allow students to scan the code and go directly to the site.
  2. Put them on displays and signs around the school so students can learn more. Example: A scholarship contest sign could have contact information or a link to the website embedded. Students can quickly scan the code, and take the information with them more easily and quickly.
  3. Put them next to student work in the hallways and link them to text that tells viewers more about the artist and the work. Sure, you can display a block of text, too, but you have more options with QR Codes (links to other media, etc.). For example, you could include a link to a video in which the student is interviewed about their work, which is harder to do with a bit of text on the wall.
  4. Add them to large maps. Students can scan them and be directed to Wikipedia articles or other websites where they can learn more about the area. For example, putting a QR Code on a map of Georgia next to Milledgeville could bring up a list of writers from that town. You could also link to GoogleMaps so students could zoom around and explore the area in more detail or to images of people or events in the area. Videos, too.
  5. Encode answers to the assignment so students can check their work when they’re done. Perhaps the extra step of decoding the QR Code will be enough for students to try it out first before checking.
  6. Use them in scavenger hunts. Students can be directed to different websites and complete different tasks.
  7. Have students use them to turn in work. It would be great for multimedia projects incorporating video, audio, blogs, and images.

Jeff Utecht also has some great ideas for using QR Codes. I love the idea he shares about putting QR Codes on books. Students can be directed to reviews. QR stickers on books might be a fun way of sharing an assignment, such as a literature circle role.

Check out this great LiveBinder on QR Codes.

I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to take images of QR Codes and see what will pop up. Which also means they can be used by students for more nefarious purposes, so you should be aware of them for that reason, too.

How can you make them?

Kaywa has a great QR Code generator. Give it a try.

What if you don’t have mobile devices, or what if they’re banned in your school?

qrcode

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Twitter Clients

Twitter Fail WhaleI am having trouble finding a Twitter client that does everything I want. I want my Twitter client to be able to help me navigate messages I’ve missed since I last logged in. Nambu makes that really easy. When I open Nambu, I see the last 200 messages in my stream, but my lists contain more messages, and I am better able to keep up. What makes this easy is that Nambu provides a little bubble with the number of tweets, and that number decreases as I read the tweets, so I know when I’ve seen everything.

However, Nambu discontinued multiple columns some time back and is seriously dragging its feet about implementing them again despite a support ticket that is now nearly a year old. A lot of people started using Nambu because of the multiple columns, myself included, and I really need them back if my Twitter client is going to help me do what I want it to do.

Which is why I tried out Seesmic. Seesmic is great, but I do have a hard time navigating tweets since my last visit. The only drawback I can see is that I still need to wade through my stream to see tweets I missed, and I am not confident I have caught them all. Other than that, I have no complaints about Seesmic. Tweetdeck is also good, but I despise the dark color scheme, and their light color scheme is worse. I could change the colors to whatever I want, but I’ve tried it, and it’s complicated to get right. Seesmic and Nambu are both aesthetically pleasing with a light color scheme that looks good out of the box. Added bonus for Seesmic over Nambu is that Seesmic makes it very easy to add people I follow to my lists.

However, I need something that will update in real-time for Monday’s #engchat. Seesmic doesn’t have a Mac version of their real-time client available yet, so it looks like I’ll be using Tweetdeck with an #engchat column. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up if I try to use Nambu, which has no real time version of their client at all. I have been trying out Tweetdeck, and I have to say it’s improved a lot under the hood since I last used it, but the color scheme is still the same.

Am I asking a lot for a Twitter client that

  • Has multiple columns
  • Enables me to easily keep track of unread tweets and go back and read them
  • Is aesthetically pleasing (and not so dark)
  • Updates in real time… ?

It would appear to be so. It’s a given that my Twitter client has to coordinate with URL shortening services, preferably Bit.ly. I don’t have a preference as far as image uploading services, but want to be able to have one. I also need a window to pop up so that I know a new tweet has come in when I’m multitasking (reading on the web, writing, etc.). Nambu, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck all offer these services, which is why I’ve not discussed the need for them.

For now I feel stuck opening Nambu to what I’ve missed since the last login, using Tweetdeck to follow chats, and using Seesmic for everything else.

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Back to School

Pencil on PaperTomorrow is the first day of the 2010-2011 school year. I think the year I don’t become nervous and excited about the first day of school is the year I should probably retire. I teach because I like to learn and I like to share, and I can’t imagine not getting excited about wanting to learn and share more and better each year.

I’m trying out BuddyPress and a wiki for my classes. Our school has Edline, but I found it too limiting for what I wanted to do. I’m looking forward to seeing what my students will be able to do with both.

This semester is my last semester of grad school. I should graduate in December if all goes well this semester. I’m very excited to be finishing. In case you were wondering, I did receive top marks on the project I spent my summer working on. If you haven’t seen the finished product, you can visit it here.

Other stuff I have on tap this year: my first ever presentation at NCTE. I’m both nervous and excited about that. It will be good to see some friends at NCTE, too.

Today I am working on my first week’s plans, which include introductions to British lit., American lit., and Joseph Campbell; teaching the lede and 5W-H questions in journalism; and beginning novel studies on A Farewell to Arms, Brave New World, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chris Campbell

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New Year’s Day

Flowers / 花(はな)It’s New Year’s Day for me—the first day of pre-planning. I am teaching two sections of British Literature and Comp., one section of American Literature and Comp., the Hero with a Thousand Faces elective, and Journalism/Newspaper. Newspaper is new for me. I have sponsored a newspaper before, but it has been a few years. I think it’s going to be a good year. Of course, a new year is always exciting for teachers, or at least it is for me.

In addition to the wiki I have created, I decided to use BuddyPress for forums, blogs, and class groups. Jeff Utecht discussed BuddyPress the other day, and though I’d seen it mentioned other places, I finally checked it out after reading Jeff’s tweet, and I have to say I think it’s going to be a really powerful extension of my classroom. Plus, I have my own domain, so why not?

I’m going to have trouble getting used to this back-to-school schedule. I am NOT looking forward to school-supply shopping. Poor Maggie has been bugging me to do it for weeks. She wants a new, more grown-up backpack. I’m just glad I don’t need to get anything for my own classroom—for a change. My own children don’t go back to school until the 23rd. Almost all the other school systems around here started today. I think their system just decided to shorten the year by starting later—systems all over the state are doing it to save money. Sad they have to.

More soon!

Creative Commons License photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)

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My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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Pretty British Literature Handouts

Partly because I am trying to show off the pretty handouts I have created using Apple iWorks’s Pages, and partly because I wanted to try out Issuu, here is a collection of handouts for British literature.

What a pretty way to share handouts!

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Audacity and GarageBand

Modified Podcast Logo with My Headphones Photoshopped OnFor my ITMA project today, I did quite a bit of playing around in Audacity and GarageBand. I have made a few podcasts, but I haven’t honestly played around with the software beyond recording and editing. I wanted to learn how to add music tracks to podcasts and how to diminish the music so it functions like an introduction.

Both programs allow you to add music and diminish it, but it’s much easier in GarageBand, and it’s also much more intuitive. I found I really liked GarageBand’s interface, too. I know that Audacity is free and available on multiple operating systems, whereas GarageBand is $79.00 as part of iLife ’09 and only available on Macs, but I would go as far as recommending using GarageBand over Audacity if you have a Mac. Everything I tried to do was just so much easier, and I had more options.

If you want to see what I’ve done so far with the podcast lessons, you can check out my work. I’m not done.

As of today, 98.25 hours on this project as a whole (150 hours required). I want to try to finish before I go on vacation in mid-July.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Colleen AF Venable

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Apture Poll

Some visitors, particularly if you read the site and not the RSS feed, may have noticed that this site is enhanced with Apture. Apture is really beneficial to me because it enables me to create links to information really easily. I’m not sure if it’s of any benefit to users or not, other than you can view information in small popup windows before deciding whether you want to leave the site to go look at it.

Apture has released a new function that I have been dithering about adding called the Apture Site Bar. Here you can read some more about it. If you visit the site and scroll down, you can see an Apture Site Bar in action. Please go check it out and come back.

Well?

How would you feel about visiting this site with an Apture Site Bar at the top?

  • I think it would add some functionality to the site. Go for it. (86%)
  • It wouldn't bother me, but I don't think it adds any functionality. (14%)
  • I wouldn't like it. It's distracting. (0%)

Total Votes: 7

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Update: Apture tweeted this link to its YouTube channel so you can learn more about Apture.

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