The Geekly Weekly


I sent this as an email to my son because he has a long future ahead of him in information gathering, storing and referencing. So I thought why not share it more widely–even if it comes with an admission that I’m not currently using the paid-for software I thought was going to be my researching salvation. Free is better. Right?

I feel a little foolish having bought several programs thinking they were the bee’s knees and now (at least for blog posting purposes and other short writing) I’ve taken to using what is free. Toward your aggregating of information (either as blogger, writer or student) let me suggest you give this combination a try, and see screenshot of my computer.

I think you’re already using Firefox 3. If not, upgrade.

THREE recommended Firefox add-ons…

Split Browser. I’m mostly sticking with only opening a split to the right and running just a few tabs there, the one CRUCIAL tab that is always open is Google Documents to the one doc that is my main catch-all. (From there, I can include clickable links to other google docs that I’ve set up for particular purposes–like long essays, link collections and such. When clicked, that other doc will open as a tab in the right Split. The right spilt window can be easily shrunk to almost nothing (especially for smaller monitor screens) then reopened in a click. Play with it–not perfect but pretty nifty.

The third is Zotero. I suggest you read about it and watch the videos. I’ve only just begun to use it (not counting a year or more ago when it and FFox were both much slower) and it offers great promise. There is large grant money funding it, and it is “by researchers and for researchers” so the body of users is growing fast. You can nest subtopics under topics: Environment / Water / Surface water for example.

Google documents is key. Webclips and urls can be dragged in, intact. (Oh, also recommend Quote Text FFox add-on to capture url, date, title and other info from web clippings.) G-docs text can take rich formatting, lists, tables etc. Screenshot–zotero is open, bottom of left split; gdocs shows a table for “cornell note taking” method of putting ideas down the left side while writing flow goes in the right panel–like i used to do with OneNote (which I still recommend especially if you can get it at student discount price.)

Store this for some time when you have a project coming up and have something to try it out on. It will only take a half hour to make all this happen. I think you’ll be glad you invested the effort. (You can install all the add-ons in one session and they will go active with just one restart of FFox and be in business!)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. One thing I might suggest is that you look at Google Gears. It’s another freebie from Google, that syncs your online Docs with a local copy. It would allow you to work offline, and also give you a backup copy should there be a problem at Google.

  2. I have G-gears for the laptop but hadn’t thought about the backup aspect to having it installed on the desktop. Being able to work offline is a good piece of work as the browser becomes more and more central to people’s work. Problem at Google? It’s been a week since G-mail was down for hours, so yeah, it happens. FF