My latest at ProfHacker: Cross-Platform Applications for Daily Work

Multiple operating systems in actionSometimes our readers give us good ideas for posts. After my post about fully replacing ChromeOS with Linux, a reader asked what Linux software I use for academic purposes. I suggested Zotero for PDF management, and also pointed him to Steven Ovadia’s @steven_ovadia blog — which has an “academic” tag — for further ideas.

In case other readers are interested (or have recommendations of their own to share!), I thought it worth mentioning some other applications academics might find useful.

My first criterion for integrating an application into my workflow is, of course, that it do what I need it to do. In the ideal world, I’d also like the software I use to be free, open-source, and cross-platform. In the real world, though, I’ve found that it’s not always possible to find applications that work well for me and that have all of those characteristics, so I’m willing to pay for a license when I find a piece of software works especially well for me. The cross-platform criterion is probably the single most important consideration for me at this point, since I increasingly find myself working on a variety of Mac, Linux, and (to a lesser degree) Windows machines.

Here are the applications I find myself using on an almost daily basis, regardless of platform:

  • For citation management: Zotero.

  • For web browsing: Chrome. Though it’s not open source, I tend to gravitate toward it out of habit, for reasons of convenience more than anything — I’m an Android user, and my campus uses Google services. Chromium is a good open-source alternative, as is Firefox.

  • For writing: Sublime Text 3. (It’s not free or open source, but I’ve recently purchased a license. The license is, at least, a user license rather than a machine license, and it’s good for all supported platforms: Linux, OS X, and Windows. Since I’m trying to learn more about HTML, CSS, and PHP, I find the syntax highlighting and code completion really helpful.) ReText and UberWriter are excellent free editors that are great for working in Markdown, but they’re only available for Linux, so far as I know.

  • For backups and syncing across computers: SpiderOak (for materials that need some security) and Dropbox (for less sensitive files).

I’m still looking for a good, easy to use scanning and OCR solution for Linux. PDFScanner works wonderfully well in OS X, and is affordable, but I haven’t yet found a Linux equivalent.

What applications do you find yourself using most consistently for your daily work? Do you have any favorites to recommend? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Javier Aroche]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: All Things Google: A Busy Month

Google logo with Einstein's face addedThere’s been a lot going on for Google lately. Since just before the end of April, Google has made changes to its mobile apps, introduced a new tool for educators, and run into some trouble in Europe. Given the degree to which All Things Google play a role in our lives (for good or for ill), it seems appropriate to offer some brief commentary on each.

Mobile applications

The change to Google’s mobile applications was a pretty significant one. Previously, everything you wanted to do with any documents you had on a mobile device, you did in the Drive application. Google now has standalone apps for Documents and Sheets, with Slides due “soon.”

I’ve had a look at these new applications on both my iPad and my Android phone. On Android, the experience is more pleasant . . . but my phone really isn’t a device I want to use for writing anything longer than about a paragraph.

For that sort of writing, I’d much rather use my iPad. On the iPad, however, is precisely where I run into issues. Editing is a pleasant enough experience. Forget organizing your files or sending them as attachments, though. Want to change what folder a document is in? You’ll have to go to the Drive app for that. If you want to send a document as an attachment, rather than simply sharing it with the intended recipient? Even in the Drive app, you can’t — not without opening the document in a third-party application first.

Those are really annoying limitations for the iOS apps, given that I can accomplish either task with ease in the Android versions. Grumble.


Google announced Classroom, a new tool in its Apps for Education suite, the first week of May. It’s hard to know what to think about it just yet, since it isn’t readily available (it should be in time for the fall semester; in the meantime, it’s possible to sign up for a preview that should be available sometime in June). From what’s presented on their site, it seems to be intended primarily for middle schools and high schools, but it may also have some uses for those at the college and university level (it might, for instance, make it unnecessary to use third-party solutions such as Flubaroo). Time will tell.

Decision of European Court

The big news as I’m writing this (on May 15) is the May 13 judgment of the European Court of Justice that Google must remove links that might be damaging to someone’s reputation (effectively allowing people to erase their records), unless there’s a compelling reason not to — even if the pages the links point to are perfectly legal, and need not themselves be removed.

Jonathan Zittrain agrees that the European Court is addressing a very real problem, but thinks the solution they’ve settled on is less than stellar. In any event, the case should make an interesting topic of discussion for my Political Issues course this fall.

What about you? What do you think of Google’s new mobile apps? Are you planning to take a look at Google Classroom? What do you make of the European Court’s decision? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Danny Sullivan]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: More Chromebook Fun: Fully Replacing ChromeOS with Linux

Inside an Acer ChromebookLast November, I wrote about running Ubuntu on a Chromebook using ChrUbuntu. In that post, I noted some of the advantages of running ChrUbuntu: I really liked having a full-blown desktop environment to work in, and ChrUbuntu worked much better for me than Crouton.

There were still some issues, though. I couldn’t choose the operating system at startup; switching back to ChromeOS required issuing a terminal command and rebooting the machine. If I wanted to boot back into Ubuntu, I had to issue a slightly different terminal command in ChromeOS, and reboot again. Granted, part of the point of installing ChrUbuntu in the first place was to be able to use Ubuntu as my primary operating system on my little Acer; I hardly ever booted back into ChromeOS. But if that was going to be the case, I thought, why should ChromeOS even be occupying space on my hard drive?

I encountered the second issue when I tried to upgrade the machine’s RAM (to be fair, I encountered the same issue in ChromeOS). Adding memory to the machine (which shipped with only 2GB of RAM) broke the suspend function. When I shut the lid, the computer would appear to suspend, but opening the lid again simply shut the machine down rather than waking it up. On some occasions, the computer would continue to run even while supposedly suspended, resulting in its being very hot when I took it back out of my messenger bag. Both behaviors were problematic.

So, after a couple of months of working with the way ChrUbuntu was behaving on my particular machine, I decided to take a risk and completely remove ChromeOS. That meant replacing the firmware, which was the scary part. (There is a genuine risk of bricking your machine when replacing the firmware, so please don’t try this on a machine that’s essential to your daily work!)

Here’s what I needed to do:

  1. Disable write-protect by enabling the appropriate jumper on the Chromebook (I found that a small piece of tinfoil worked fine).
  2. Create a backup copy of the original firmware.
  3. Download and flash an appropriate non-Google firmware from John Lewis’s site.
  4. Re-enable write-protect.
  5. Download a 32-bit Linux distribution and use it to create a live USB (UNetbootin is an easy-to-use tool for creating one).
  6. Boot the machine from the live USB (yes, once I’d replaced the firmware, the Acer booted from a USB drive just fine, as long as I was using a 32-bit Linux distribution), and install Linux as one usually would. (One nice perk of replacing the firmware was that, though I’d never before been able to boot from USB, I was able to do so just fine as long as I was using a 32-bit live USB.)
  7. Enable the touchpad by adding a few lines to /etc/modules.

I already knew how to create a live Linux USB drive. To gain a better understanding of the process of replacing the firmware, I read documentation at John Lewis’s site (linked above) and watched Johnny Phung’s “Natively Running Windows 7 on Acer C7 Chromebook.” (I simply installed a different operating system than he did at the end of the process.) I found the lines I needed to add to /etc/modules under the “Method 3″ heading on this page.

The process was a little scary — believe me, I held my breath when flashing the new firmware — but it wasn’t particularly difficult. If you’ve ever successfully jailbroken your iPhone or rooted an Android device, such as a Nook Color or similar, you’re almost certainly capable of doing this.

What have I gained?

  • I now have a fast, lighteight device that runs a full version of Linux (I’m using Ubuntu 14.04 at the moment, but I’ve also tried Linux Mint 16 and it works fine) with no issues.
  • Linux is free to use the entire hard drive; I don’t need to reserve space for an OS that I never use.
  • All of my RAM is recognized, all the time (I had occasional issues with that on the original firmware).
  • Suspend works correctly!
  • The process of replacing the firmware helped me learn a bit more about the inner workings of my computer (in a way that simply dual-booting Linux on an inexpensive Windows machine wouldn’t have, though I realize that’s the easiest way to get a fully-functioning Linux laptop).

What about you? Have you tried fully replacing ChromeOS? Have you ever replaced the firmware on any of your devices to open up more use possibilities than the manufacturer intended? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

[Photo by Flickr user Sam Harrelson]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

My latest at ProfHacker: A Quick Recap of Day of DH 2014

Book and laptop

This post was originally scheduled to run last week, but then there was Heartbleed.

So it’s only now that we get to look back to this year’s Day of Digital Humanities event, held on April 8 and hosted for the second year in a row by the wonderful team at Matrix, including Ethan Wattrall. For those who may be unfamiliar with the event, it’s a day in which those working in digital humanities publicly document some of their work day and discuss their work.

What is digital humanities? For answers to that question, be sure to check out the Day of DH site’s members page. Each person who registered was asked to provide his or her definition of “digital humanities,” and they’re noted there. There’s quite a range, and the definitions make for an interesting read.

With 523 registrations, there was a lot of DH-related blogging going on during the day. At least three of the ProfHacker team set up sites: Anastasia and Brian did, as did I. There was also a very active Twitter stream. That likely had even wider participation, as people whose commitments that day made blogging impossible, but who were nevertheless doing DH-related work, chimed in.

Between the blogging and the Twitter stream, there was a lot of good conversation going on, which is always one of the best parts of the event. I’m still dipping back in to the stream and the blogs as time permits, because there was simply so much happening (so I’m very grateful to have blogs and hashtag searches to go back to!).

Did you participate in this year’s Day of DH? Are there particular blogs, specific posts, or Twitter conversations that you’d recommend reading? Let us know in the comments.

[CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski]

from ProfHacker » Amy CavenderProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education