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Blog Entries The Technological

Using Roam Research in Academia

I have fallen in love with the note-taking, research, “second brain” app called, Roam Research. It is a simple application that enables me to take notes and do research in ways that I have not been able to do with other note-taking systems. As someone who loves to read, research, and write, I find Roam’s approach to be really refreshing and unique. I am excited to use it. I am excited to take notes and work on ideas in its environment. I find myself wanting to continue to develop ideas and take notes even when I’m done with the initial task at hand.

I find Roam has at least three strengths:

1. Prioritizes writing over organizing,
2. Links ideas together (manually and automatically),
3. Harnesses Return on Attention in ways that other apps cannot – the more you use it and the more notes, research, and information you put into Roam, the better it gets.

If you research, write, journal, and even manage tasks, I’d recommend you give it a shot. Here’s how:

  • Setup an account to Roam Research – it is free
  • Watch this short video on YouTube (below)
  • Start typing out some thoughts or notes. Create new pages that are separate notes, ideas, concepts.
  • Begin linking pages together by using the shortcuts [[]] and (())
  • Open Roam on your mobile and use the Quick Capture feature

Here is a whole long article I wrote for the website RoamBrain on how to use Roam Research for academic work. I think you will enjoy it if you are interested in learning a new app of this kind.

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Bag of Tricks Blog Entries The Technological

Using DuckDuckGo for Search

DuckDuckGo Search Enging Homepage

If you have used an Internet browser (ever) and searched something through google.com you’re not alone, many of us are so accustomed to Google search that the word Google has become a verb. But why stick with something just because it’s habit when there is something way cooler out there?

If you haven’t tried out DuckDuckGo out yet for your searches, start with your web browser. DuckDuckGo has been around since 2008 and has made its name on being “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” That’s what got me interested. It seems, according to this article in Forbes, that others are having a similar feeling; search queries on DDG have grown considerably since 2013.

I am probably medium-weird about privacy – not totally lax but not completely freaked out either. But Google, Facebook, and Amazon are notoriously terrible for tracking and spying on users and using that data for not great stuff. We are now living in a data economy, this stuff isn’t going away, so rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, I think it’s time to figure out what you are and are not willing to give up to big data. Your web search history which is incredibly personal is one great place to start. Go ahead. Try it out.

Not so bad, huh?

If you like it you can read more about their privacy policies here and take a privacy crash course here.

So if you like it and you want to use it all the time, what next?

The next thing to do is to open your browser settings and switch the default search engine.

For those of you on Safari: Go to preferences, then search and select DDG from the pull-down menu.

For those of you on Firefox: Go to preferences, then select search from the sidebar.

If you’re using Chrome you can install DDG as well, but then again, using Chrome means your data is leaking back to Google in other ways. Browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Brave are good places to go if you’re wanting something that has stricter privacy policies.

If you are medium-weird like me you can replicate this process on your smartphone and tablets so that you have DDG everywhere. Here is a good place to start with doing that.

A couple really useful features to try out with DuckDuckGo

Search time in DDG and you can open multiple times for projects you’re working on. I love this!

DuckDuckGo has something called !bangs which are basically shortcuts to bigger searches. So instead of typing in Wikipedia and then going to that webpage and searching for your item you can type !w + your search term and DDG will take you right to that page on Wikipedia. You can do this with Amazon, Twitter, Yelp and tons more.

You can also do math in the search bar or use the calculator. Trust me, I use this one a lot.

It also has a maps feature that uses Apple Maps (which also don’t track) and Yelp built-in.

Finally, if this isn’t enough you can go much deeper with Brett Terpstra’s posts on how to “Learn the syntax of DuckDuckGo” – Link

To me, it may seem a minor thing, but by using DDG for all my searches and using a browser like Firefox or Safari, I’ve already made two steps towards being in better control of my data and privacy. In this day and age, this will be part of what we have to pay attention to. I’m glad for services like DDG for making this as painless as possible.

Update:

A reader pointed out that I didn’t give my opinion about the search results. The short answer is, I am very satisfied with the results. In fact, I unplugged from google search so long ago that I don’t even think about search results at this point, nor do I compare them. Everything seems to work as it should. That’s not to say I shouldn’t check from time to time but I just don’t even think about it anymore.

This runs into another important way that DDG is different from google, as it says on its Wikipedia page, it helps you “avoid the filter bubble of personalized search results.” DDG aims to give everyone the same results, and those results, in their mind are meant to be the best result to the search query. It’s a different philosophy that underlies a different way to develop technology. In this case, I appreciate that approach and I find that it works as intended.

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Featured The Technological

Becoming Facebook Free

I’ve struggled with Facebook for some time. For about the last 2.5 years, I’ve basically wanted to deactivate my account and have even downloaded all my information from it more than once in preparation but then I chickened out or lost my motivation. So I’ve settled on not using it but still having an account. By “Not Using It” I mean, that I literally go weeks without checking anything on it, at most spending 5-10 mins a week clearing out notifications just to make sure I didn’t miss something that needs my attention, and removing the app from my iOS devices. But the reality is, I really don’t like Facebook and don’t want to be on there but feel that in some way I’m obligated to have an active profile there.

I don’t like it for three main reasons:

  • I think it is an attention black hole
  • I have found it to have largely negative impacts on community and face-to-face relationships
  • I think Facebook is increasingly unethical and corrupt and I don’t like what they’re doing with our data

To this third point, there is a lot of data and journalism that’s been written about Facebook’s impact on political ads and the presidential campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and more. 2018 was a particularly terrible year for Facebook in terms of their ethical screw-ups. If you are unfamiliar with these events, here are few articles that outline what I’m talking about:

And here are a couple podcasts from Note To Self on what Facebook does with our data, which I find equally troubling:

For me, I can’t help but feel like using this platform is a vote for the platform, no matter what small goods may come from trying to leverage it. This makes me uncomfortable, and yet, I still feel tied to it like so many.

Things shifted for me recently after listening to one of my favorite podcasts called “Rework” by the folks at Basecamp, a company whose values I am inspired by. Their recent episode, “100% Facebook-Free” was deeply motivating. See their post here that goes into a little more detail on the subject.

I was impressed that a business as big as theirs was willing to make a stand against these actions by pulling their company off all of Facebook’s apps: Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp.

Here is how they describe “being a Facebook-free business.”

Being a Facebook-Free Business means your customers can trust that you aren’t collaborators with the Facebook machine. That when you spend your money with a Facebook-Free Business, none of that money will find its way back to Facebook’s coffers.

The rules are pretty simple. Being Facebook Free means:

  1. We do not buy advertisement on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
  2. We do not use Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp to promote or represent our business or to communicate with our customers.
  3. We do not assist Facebook in its data collection regime through use of Facebook social Like buttons or by offering Facebook logins.

In short, that the business does not use Facebook or its subsidiaries in any way shape or form to operate, further, or conduct itself.

This all got me thinking about the small steps I could take to get off of Facebook. I tend to think in terms of all-or-nothing and that has made it hard for me to act, but when I think about this blog and my small coffee roasting hobby as two places I could start, I realized I could make some movement. And the values behind both these sites are not reflected in what FB stands for anyway. So last week, I went through Gathering In Light and I removed all FB like links from the site so that FB cannot track your data here. Next, I deleted both Gathering In Light and Fireweed Coffee Pages from Facebook. The next step is to build my email list for Fireweed and then remove it from Instagram (My hope is to do that sometime in the coming months). Because it is so small, something like IG does help with my communication and promotion. However, with a little more work, I can strengthen visibility in alternative ways, making it easier to cut loose from these platforms.

I wanted to share these thoughts with you not because I hope you’ll necessarily follow me in taking these steps, but more to share the process I’m going through to my online life and IRL in alignment with each other. And also to communicate, if you notice why I am not present on some of these other platforms as much or at all. I’m interested in hearing how others process this information and if you’ve taken any steps to protect yourself, your data, and others online as well.

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Blog Entries The Technological

Using an Evernote Template for Research

I have become increasingly interested in creating templates for Evernote. A template is useful for things you might come back to a lot, such as a basic project plan or for a process you use a lot. Recently, I created a “template” with a checklist of steps I want to remember to do everytime we want to publicize an event at the college.

One template I recently created is a template for doing (Quaker) research. I wanted to share this because you could create something similar for your own writing and research in your own field.

screenshot.png

Background: This template is was created for an assignment I like to have my students do in class called a “biography as theology” paper.  In these papers, students are asked to write a biographical account that looks at how their person lived and what their living says about their believing (the idea is taken from James Wm. McClendon Jr.). This template lays out in pretty clearly the steps needed to develop a well-researched paper on their subject with all the links and necessary information to make it as easy as possible on the researcher later.

It occured to me after creating this, with a good bit of help from my Guilford College colleague and archivist Gwen Gosney Erickson, that this kind of template would be useful to me for my research as well. I can easily duplicate the note, put it into a new notebook created for my current research topic, and then plug in any specific sites and steps to fit the needs of the project. Not only do I not have to recreate the wheel, I a robust process already in place that can help me get started.

If you’re an Evernote user, feel free to click on the template link and click save to save it to your own Evernote library. If you’re not an Evernote user, what are you waiting for? After saving it, I’d encourage you to adapt it to your needs or create your own step by step template for your writing and research process.

Let me know if you have any questions or what you come up with in the comments below.

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Blog Entries The Technological

Today’s Bullied Teens Subject To ‘Sticks And Stones’ Online, Too

Today's Bullied Teens Subject To 'Sticks And Stones' Online, Too : NPR.

This is a link to today’s episode of Fresh Air looks at the subject of Cyber-Bullying. I can’t recommend it enough to parents, teachers and ministers alike. Emily Bazelon of Slate Magazine is interviewed about the subject because of her new book “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.” The book details her research on a number of bullying cases and how schools, parents, and social media websites handled the crises as they arose. Then she gleans a number of key insights that she shares in the interview that are really helpful.

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Practices The Technological

Logging off from Facebook and Twitter

Some of you have probably noticed my absence already but last Friday I logged off of Facebook and Twitter for the month of december. Call it a digital detox, social media vacation or just plan weird but I decided I really needed a break over the advent season so that I could be fully present to my family and work at “seeing beyond.” For a couple months I have been thinking a lot about my interactions online, the time it takes up, what I learn from doing it and why I engage in online activities and I have been feeling the need to create some space from these things so that I can have a better perspective on their role in my life (I posted a recent reflection here). So there’s not much else to it. I deleted a lot of my fb and twitter apps on my computer and phone so there’s less temptation and I have a few friends who I know will let me know if they see that I’ve logged on for any reason. So far it really hasn’t been an issue. I’ve enjoyed not worrying about what’s happening online. It’s amazing the amount of mental space that stuff takes up. I’ve felt free and less tethered to my devices. And actually, being less tethered has helped me to see I don’t really need a cell phone at all (or not all the time). So my wife and I are going down to one cell phone to be kept with the car at all times. I am going to place great emphasis on getting a hold of me when I am in physical places such as my office or my home. I have had my life dominated by these things and am finding that a little distance has been very freeing. And who knows what will happen come January, I won’t worry about that until then.

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Featured Practices The Technological

Escapism and Citizenship on the Web

The web has been a good place to me. I have formed many meaningful relationships over the web, I have maintained long distance ones, and I have had the opportunity to be a part of a variety of ministry, as well as academic, events because of it. Many of these things have come through my blog Gathering in Light. But as of late, my amiable feelings have been wearing off. Some of it is related to the things I’ve been reading elsewhere, such as things related to Wendell Berry’s book “Life is a Miracle” (read here for some comments on “Creatures are not Machines” and also see this poem). Some of it has come by way of Kester Brewin who has been on a roll lately (see here and here) speaking about social media as being action without action. And finally, folks like Rhett Smith continue to help reframe the impact that social media has on our lives, especially as it pertains to families (here’s a post I found illuminating today). And to be sure, I am not making some kind of universal statement about what everyone else should be doing, this is really just about where I am at personally. But it also moves beyond what I’m reading, to seeing the impact that technology has in my day to day life. I see technology not as neutral but as formative, it forms and re-forms us according to how it works rather than the other way around. In this way it seems that I have become more an accessory to my gadgets rather than my gadgets being an extension of who I am. Given this, I have moved from full embrace to a much more critical stance as I have seen how social media has had both positive and negative effects upon my life. And so I too have shifted my thinking.

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Featured Practices The Technological

Creatures are not Machines

Wendell Berry, in an essay within his book Life is a Miracle (53ff), writes about the persistent problem of some analogizing humans with machines. You don’t have to look far for examples or remarks about the human mind being like a computer chip, or people being talked about as complex machines. Just watch a recent Droid commercial and you get the point. Berry points out that this is a serious problem, not because analogies are somehow bad to make, but that analogies have certain limits which need to be respected. In this case, the analogy seems to get carries away to the point of actually becoming an identification with, rather than an explanatory metaphor.

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Six Months Quaker Preacher The Technological

Fast/Face

I’ve been scaling back my time on twitter for sometime; I nearly deleted the account a month ago but had too many friends ask me not to do it so I reconsidered. Now I checked only irregularly and mostly use an autopost type feature to place updates there. I did this so I could free up time to check facebook more since that’s where most of the folks in our meeting “hang out.” But as is the normal trend for me I am no holds barred, and all or nothing. So it didn’t take long to feel like facebook was also taking up too much of my mental space (not to mention my actual time!). So I took a week and half off from it. I only popped on a couple times to respond to important messages people sent me that I had no other way to respond to. Too be honest, I’m proud of myself for being so disciplined and actually not peaking. Typically, I’m the guy who grumbles when he’s fasting to the point that I’ll sneak little nibbles here and there on crackers (or whatever) when no one is looking to fight the hunger pains. My internal dialogue is more of a holler: I just can’t take this any longer! I have a low threshold for pain, what can I say? So knowing my lack of will power when it comes to drawing hard and fast lines like this, I think I did a good job!

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Practices Sermons The Biblical The Technological

Living as a contrasting/inspiring/beautiful Community (Romans 12:14-17)

Here’s my sermon from today.

It’s true that sometimes community doesn’t always work out right. Emily and I were a part of a small house church a few years back that used the word “community” as a kind of buzz word but it became rather oppressive because the leader want to maintain total control. So the word “community” can also be used to disguise for people out of step with what it really means. But then there are other times that it not only works, but everything flows just right, and the choreography of a community working together for a common cause turns out to be beautiful.