Friday, November 18, 2005

Some Advice and Ideas on Making Presentations

Particletree has a great set of tips on making presentation (whether through Microsoft Office's PowerPoint or OpenOffice's FREE Impress).

There are definitely many reasons to dislike such presentations, but that doesn't mean it always has to be something unlikable.

I found these links through another great web resource: Lifehacker.

Categories: Office Software

Monday, November 14, 2005

Using the Pocket PC for Taking Notes in Interviews

Using the Pocket PC for Taking Notes in Interviews

This fall I experimented with using my pocket pc as the primary note-taking tool for interview research I conducted in Washington, DC and Geneva.

It is by no means the perfect tool, but it does do the job. Here I’ll both explain how I went about doing it and compare this note-taking method to traditional pen-and-paper. This explanation is rather long, but it is really easy once you get the hang of it.

How to Do It:

What you will need:

Recommended, but not necessary:

  • Ÿ Screen Protector (You will be writing a lot on the screen, so this is probably a good thing to have to protect it. I use the ones from Boxwave but there are other brands as well. See this review at Aximsite.)
  • Ÿ Extended (or Extra) Battery for your Pocket PC (This is especially useful if you plan to conduct a lot of interviews during a day)
  • Calligrapher (A software program for handwriting recognition.)

Taking note: the steps

NOTE: Before trying this in a real interview I would recommend you do a couple trial runs, to gauge how comfortable you are with the software and which settings work best for you.

1. Load PhatPad onto your Pocket PC. PhatPad is--thus far--the best note-taking application for the Pocket PC. Alas, it is not free. Fortunately, a trial version is available and I would recommend using that version before purchasing.

2. Rotate your Pocket PC Screen (available in Windows Mobile 2003SE and Windows Mobile 5 devices). You want it to be in landscape position to increase the horizontal writing area. [Go to Start --> Settings --> System --> Screen. OR, do what I have done and make one of your Pocket PC buttons dedicated to the Rotate Screen Feature. To do this: Go to Start --> Settings --> Personal -- > Buttons. Then select a button (I have selected Button 5) and assign “rotate screen” to that button.] You can do all of this in portrait mode, but I find it easier in landscape and expect you will too.

3. Open PhatPad. Select New.

4. Write a title on the page. Select Tools --> File --> Save As. Save the document. [Note: For some reason PhatPad will not let you save a file until there is writing on the page.]

5. Turn on the Automatic Scrolling Feature of PhatPad. Go to Tools --> Auto Scrolling. It is “on” if there is a check by it. I recommend using vertical scrolling only. Scrolling options can be found at Tools à Options. [Note that automatic scrolling only works when the zoom is set at 100%.]

Note that once the auto scrolling feature is configured you will not need to repeat these steps for future documents.

6. Select Page Size. Go to View --> Set Page Size. I tend to use letter size pages, but it really doesn’t matter.

7. Set other options as you desire. You can change the background color, add a horizontal or vertical grid, select the ink color and select the width of the pen. Experimenting a little with the program will show you how to do this.

8. Start Writing.

9. REMEMBER TO SAVE YOUR FILE. I recommend occasionally saving your file during the course of your interview. To do that, simply press on the little “disk” icon on the toolbar. I also recommend that you set your Pocket PC power option to not turn off unless the device is not used for 15 minutes. Turning off in the middle of note-taking might affect PhatPad’s ability to save the file.

Transcribing the Notes: the steps

If you are like me, now that you have the notes you want a typed version. And you may want to insert some of your notes in that typed version. You have two options.

Option One:

This method uses the Calligrapher handwriting recognition and is only available to you if you own that software program (also by PhatWare). It converts your handwriting to text. However, if you are like me your handwriting might be too sloppy for this to always be useful.

1. Open the PhatPad Document that contains your interview notes on your Pocket PC.

2. Go to Tools --> Recognize… --> Check to see if the options are OK with you --> Select OK

Option Two:

1. Transfer the PhatPad Document to your Desktop PC using Explorer in Microsoft ActiveSync.

2. Open the PhatPad Document on your Desktop PC. [Note that this can only be done on PCs with the PhatPad Viewer.]

3. Open a new document in a Word Processing program (e.g. Word or Open Office). Resize the windows so you can read both at the same time. And begin transcribing!

Optional: Having typed questions on your screen at the same time.

In PhatPad you can also have typed interview questions readily available for you to read while going through an interview. The option for text is on the toolbar. Or, go to View --> Text Note. Then enter the questions you want to have available.

The Pocket PC versus Pen-and-Paper

Strengths of the Pocket PC:

  • Ÿ It is fantastic to be paperless, and to not have to worry about carrying pads of paper and pens that may run out of ink.
  • Ÿ It is great having an electronic version of your notes on the desktop or laptop or Pocket PC – wherever you go.


  • Ÿ PhatPad has a number of weaknesses of its own: (1) scrolling is not very smooth; (2) unless you pay extra, the software accompanying the Pocket PC version does not have handwriting recognition; (3) even if you have the handwriting recognition software, it is not perfect; (5) no document recovery system if the program or system crashes in the middle of taking notes; (6) there is no way to directly cut-and-paste from the desktop version of PhatPad into Microsoft Word.
  • Ÿ Windows Mobile (2003SE) is the Pocket PC Operating System (OS) I use. The new version (WM 5) I have not used and cannot comment on. But there are some stability issues either with the OS or PhatPad. I did lose one interview for some inexplicable reason.


The more I use the Pocket PC-PhatPad note-taking combination, the more I like it. I think I will continue to use it in most situations. But for some occasions (such as meetings where you might want to be able to quickly take broad glances of your notes as you go), pen-and-paper or perhaps a Tablet PC that has a bigger screen and more stable OS are better.

Categories: Pocket PC, Note Management

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Synchronizing Files on More than One Computer: Sync Toy

While I often feel very lucky to have both a laptop and a desktop at my disposal, I have often found it difficult to stay organized while using both. Files created on one don't always make it to the other. I don't actually use my laptop all that often, so it is frequently the case that I have a large number of files in a large number of directories to copy from my desktop to my laptop. And I cannot always remember what the specific files are!

Fortunately, some of the people at Microsoft (apparently photographers) have created a FREE solution: Sync Toy. In their own words:

SyncToy is a free PowerToy for Microsoft Windows XP that provides is an easy to use, highly customizable program that helps users to do the heavy lifting involved with the copying, moving, and synchronization of different directories. Most common operations can be performed with just a few clicks of the mouse, and additional customization is available without added complexity. SyncToy can manage multiple sets of folders at the same time; it can combine files from two folders in one case, and mimic renames and deletes in another. Unlike other applications, SyncToy actually keeps track of renames to files and will make sure those changes get carried over to the synchronized folder.

There are probably better ways to go about doing this, but I haven't found one. [I know there are expensive software solutions out there, but this one is free.] And so far this works!

Categories: Cool Tools

Introducing My Pocket PC

A little over a year ago I bought a PDA. To be more precise, I bought what is known as a Pocket PC. It drastically changed how I organize my life and work. The following is some general information on how I use my pocket pc and some links to other useful sources.

Ways I Use My Pocket PC

I almost never print documents anymore, I have a lighter load when I travel, and I am more organized. These are some of the ways I use my Pocket PC:

  • Taking Notes During Interviews (using PhatPad)
  • Reading, Highlighting and Commenting on Documents (using Repligo 2.0)
  • Writing and Editing (using TextMaker)
  • Reading News (using Avantgo)
  • Checking Email while traveling
  • Researching on the Internet while traveling
  • Entering and keeping track of appointments, contacts, and tasks (synchronizes with Outlook on my desktop)
  • Recording Interviews (it has a built-in microphone)
  • Listen to downloaded music (it acts as an MP3 player)
  • Watch converted DVDs and movies downloaded from the internet
  • Play games (comes with solitaire, of course)

See the Aximsite description of what you can do with your Pocket PC:

There are many different versions of the Pocket PC on the market. By some measures, the one I bought a year ago is already obsolete. It is a Dell Axim X30 (312 Mhz) and came with built-in wireless capabilities. I was able to purchase it for a little over $200. Another $30 bought me a keyboard from Ebay. I purchased a 256 MB SD memory card (for storing those songs and games and work documents) for about $30. For more on the X30:

Check it out at:

A Review At CNET

A Few Useful Pocket PC Websites:

Category: Pocket PC

Increasing Your Screen Real Estate: MaxiVista

Some studies suggest that people with larger computer monitors or multiple monitors are actually more productive at their work. According to Mircosoft researchers it can increase productivity anywhere from 9 to 50 percent.

But what if you don’t have another monitor and don’t want to go out and buy a new one? Another way to increase your viewing space is provided by the Germany-based company MaxiVista. They provide a way to link the monitors of more than one computer (for instance, a desktop and laptop) so that the screen of one is extended on to another. This is very useful for those of us who have both a destop pc and a laptop. In their own words:

MaxiVista turns any spare PC into an extra monitor for your primary PC. No extra hardware required. You can seamlessly extend program windows across multiple screens like it would be a single big monitor. Increase your productivity now by using multiple monitors.

OK, so all of this seems neat but you might wonder if it is really as useful as the Microsoft researchers suggest. And I would have to say yes. Even as I type this entry I am using two monitors. I am typing this in Word on one screen while looking up the websites I cite on the second screen. Here are some of the uses suggested in an old document available on the Viewsonic website:

  • Research and Writing. Whether the second screen opens web pages, or documents you have downloaded to read, an excel spreadsheet or a second chapter of your dissertation, it is fantastic to have that flexibility.
  • Graphic Art and Imaging. Zoom out even more!

  • Entertainment. Have a movie play on the other screen.

The picture below displays what the program looks like in operation in my home office. It provides a hint of how the program works in practice. You drag windows from one monitor to another and can even spread a single window over both. You can download their free trial to try it out for yourself. The basic version costs $29.95. Note that you can also pay more for the version of their software that allows you to control multiple computers from one keyboard and mouse.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I first heard of this program…

And don’t forget about the ergonomics of setting up your screens properly!

Categories: Cool Tools

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Customizing your PC

Customizing your PC. Some cool tools.

This is my first substantive entry in this blog. Future entries will provide greater detail about individual tools. This one is a copy of a note I sent to a friend some time ago. It provides an overview of some of the ways you can make your desktop look cool.

Some time ago I really got into the idea of customizing the appearance of my desktop. One helpful resource was the following webpage: .

The screenshots on this page show examples of what can be done (the background images are pictures I took while in Switzerland in Fall 2004).

The software I used was all free!

Object Dock
: This is the bar at the top of the screen; available at There is a version of this software that has more features (but you must pay for it).

Desktop Sidebar
: This is the bar at the side of the screen; available at . The individual components can be “undocked” from the sidebar, as shown with the weather dock and others in the screenshots below.

available at . Here I am using "Kapsules Weather" and "Text Box"

This screen shot includes use of DeskSweeper which is available at:

I also like to use WinRoll, a program that allows me to minimize windows in special ways or make them translucent. There are a bunch of similar programs out there as well, if you look. WinRoll is available at:

Examples of WinRoll in use are in one of the screen shots below.

I also use WinAmp <> and its Minimo skin (with the translucency feature).


NOTE: Some of these features can affect the speed of your computer. To maintain faster boot-up times for my (two-year old) laptop I usually only have Object Dock installed.

Categories: Cool Tools