ICT & Me

I started messing around with information and communications and audiovisual technology in the late 1970s…

This is the place where I talk about ICT stuff that I am working with or trying out during my lecturing and PhD research work. Some of my less tech-savvy colleagues are interested in learning more about these things. I will start off with a bit of background and then gradually add commentary about task-specific items later.

But before I do that, I want to say a little about what happened on the way here. I started messing around with information and communications and audiovisual technology in the late 1970s for a few reasons, partly because it was fun and partly because it helped me do some things that I might not otherwise have been able to do. I am moderately to severely hearing impaired (deaf in the old parlance) and I rely a lot on visual information.

As a teenager I started learning how to use audiovisual (film, video, slides), mechanics, special effects and theatre lighting equipment for theatre, cabaret and dance events, and then added  some pyrotechnical skills when I worked in the live music scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  I was fortunate to be around some very clever people working in experimental video art and electronic instruments and started to understand how light and sound could be manipulated by microprocessors.  I was also very fortunate to have a small role in a large government funded holography project involving a helium-neon laser, and learned a bit about coherent light, holographic interferometry and how holograms were made. It was around then I first started playing with computers, really basic machines with 4k ram that used audio cassettes as a storage medium and required command line inputs to do even the most simple tasks.

By the late 80s I had learned a little bit about program design and programming in Pascal and C and was able to assemble a desktop computer and was starting to explore the internet. Learning program design has helped me enormously in organising my work and study. By the early 90s I had pretty much incorporated ICT and other technologies into my work and day-to-day life. My friends often called on me to assist with problems they had with using computers or software at home. But really, I had no specialised expertise; I had just kept playing with what was around and become used to using it. My philosophy about technology generally is that if a human thought of it and made it, it cannot be too difficult for a human to learn how to use it. Of course, using ICT well might take a little longer.

And now in the 21st century I am enjoying collecting apps for my igadgets and exploring social media for my work and leisure.

So what am I using now? Well, as far as hardware goes I no longer own a desktop computer and I do not think I will buy another again. I travel a lot and this is what I have in my ‘bag of tricks’ now (illustrative only; I am not necessarily endorsing these products):

  • Macbook Pro 13″ (simply the best laptop I’ve ever owned – and I’ve had about a dozen)
  • iPad 32gb (version 1) with 3G (not great for large amounts of content creation but excellent in most other respects)
  • iPad keyboard dock (not used a lot but very handy when I am working with multiple documents)
  • iPhone 4 32gb (the camera is amazing)
  • Netcomm travel router with long life battery (goodbye extortionate hotel internet charges – allows my partner and I to share the dongle across multiple devices)
  • 3G dongle for mobile internet access
  • Scanner wand (scans A4 documents to a card; incredibly easy to use)
  • 1 Tb external hard disk drive (historical documents and media files)
  • Headset (for Skype and Facetime conversations, recording podcasts and text to speech)
  • Powerboard with 4 x outlets (never enough power outlets when you travel)

In 2011 I moved to the dark side by adopting Apple brand hardware, after using DOS based computers for nearly 30 years. What can I say? The stuff I am using now is for me simply superior in terms of speed and ease of use. I run iOS 5.0 and iCloud on the mobile devices and OS X Lion on the Macbook Pro. Sometimes if my partner is travelling and I am not, she takes the travel router and 3G dongle and I simply use my iPhone to connect my Macbook to the internet. I have read reports of difficulties that others have encountered using these platforms but (fingers crossed) I have had no problems with them.

I use more than one cloud server for offsite storage and sharing of documents (eg Dropbox). Cloud servers are a convenient platform-neutral way of accessing documents from anything with an internet connection. Very handy when you want to run a presentation from a conference computer, or to collaborate with an academic supervisor or colleague on a document. I use more than one server because I like to have a backup of my backup (hard lessons learned earlier in life about trying to replace the irreplaceable). I  have my own web server for hosting my blog site and podcasts I use in my teaching work. I really like using video and photographic sharing tools like Flickr, Instagram, Photosynth, Vimeo, and YouTube.

On the Macbook I use Firefox for browsing, I generally prefer its user interface to that of Safari, and I am not fond of Chrome, which seems to be incompatible with the Sharepoint based server I am obliged to access for work purposes. For work and academic documents, I am still using Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, which is not perfect but does the job for me. For my academic work I am using Endnote X 4.0.2 for managing my citations and bibliographies. I am aware that there are those who are not fond of Endnote, however I can only say it has never let me down to date, and it remains incredibly useful. I recently completed a masters research paper involving around 100 references and I was very glad to have Endnote to help me.

From here I will add more commentary about task-specific items soon…


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