Adventures with StoryCorps

Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to participate in the StoryCorps project as an interviewee. For those whose parents didn’t make them listen to NPR as children, StoryCorps in an oral history project in which two people who know each other take 40 minutes to have a conversation–anything beyond that is up to them, though there are initiatives to capture specific stories (folk life, or experiences of major historical events). The most interesting stories are edited into NPR segments, and all of them are archived at the Library of Congress.

Walking in, my friend and I were greeted by an NPR employee who was certainly appeared to be cut from the same cloth as us. She went to my high school, has an MPH, and spent time in a different African country for study abroad. It was one of those small world moments that Atlanta is very good at providing.

Once the project had been explained, we were led to the recording studio (think black foam walls and very large microphones) and let to talk. The conversation–which we had originally planned to be about my trip to SXSW back when I worked for HackCollege. Because, let’s face it–sharing a hotel room with internet strangers for a nerdy weekend in Texas is Not a Typical Experience. (As my friend helpfully reminded me during the interview, she was somewhat concerned I was going to be murdered while I was there.)

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Feeling Sad Weirds Me Out

I am not a normal person when it comes to “feeling things” or “reacting to sad shit.” Rather than having all of my sadness points distributed evenly–like a Mario of suffering–I’m the sort of person who cries at dog commercials but not at things like the end of summer camps. I appreciate suffering, and I’m sad when bad things happen to other people, but I am not particularly expressive except when I’m experiencing sadness through the media–This American Life stories about the Khmer Rouge, or pretty much the entirety of Up. Celebrity deaths don’t bother me, usually, except in an abstract, “I feel sorry for their families, because that’s awful,” kind of sense.

So I was really quite surprised when I was as sad as I was when Steve Jobs died. I didn’t know him, and Apple hasn’t ever hosted me at an event. Though I use a Macbook Pro, I’m not an Apple fangirl. I didn’t watch the iPhone 4S release announcement.

I’m not the only person I know who’s had this same reaction. Most of the people who I’ve talked to who aren’t tech folks still felt sad, and most of them were surprised at it. It seems inappropriate, sort of, like we feel sad about this public figure because we’re supposed to.

My friend Cameron has an interesting post up about how he thinks our sadness at Jobs’ death is related to collective guilt about expecting him to be superhuman. I don’t know how much I believe in our culpability (Jobs was always pretty private, from what I can tell), but I do think the idea of collective grief and idols is interesting. Maybe that’s why we’re sad.

Amy Winehouse’s death was sad, but she was incredibly human–we may have provoked her death (I agree with Cameron more here), but we also saw it coming. Jobs was someone who, because we never saw any real personal insight into his life even when he got cancer, did seem vaguely superhuman. He had pancreatic cancer and survived for more than five years, which considering that the five-year rate on pancreatic cancer is 4%, is kind of insane.

I still feel weird about feeling sad about Jobs’ death. But I do, if for no other reason than it means that there’s 30 years where he won’t be making cool things any more. That, if nothing else, is something to be sad about.

How I Wound Up Freelancing

At my building staff meeting tonight, the question of the week (our little closing ritual) was where we saw ourselves in five years. It being Emory, half the group answered “med school.” I said that I was planning to be working in the Smithsonian by then, but on second thought (after much debate among the med school kids about whether residencies are in a lottery that, I must confess, I did not pay attention to) I said that I might want to run social media outreach for an interesting company. One of my co-workers said that she could see me doing that, and another pointed out that I have job skills that are not like normal college kid job skills.

Though I don’t think I’m unusually skilled, I do realize that my sources of income outside of school–primarily freelance writing gigs–are weird. So, I thought I’d talk a little bit about how I stumbled into getting paid for writing.

I didn’t do paid writing until this year. As a high school student, I spent three years as an editor on the school paper, the last two as the Editor-in-Chief, and that gave me some experience writing on a deadline and a lot more experience with badly-applied AP Style, group writing, and how to manage an illegal install of InDesign and hook up a network the school didn’t want–plus how to deal with our printers in rural Georgia and fiddle with a WordPress supplement that my teacher didn’t want. All of these–particularly group dynamics and learning to work around silly restrictions–were tremendously useful skills, but when I graduated I quit using most of them.

This summer, while working at school, I saw that Kelly put out a call for new writers on HackCollege. I’ve been reading the site since I was in high school (yes, I’m that kid) so I applied. I was accepted, and after a truly geeky happy dance, started writing for the site regularly. I don’t get paid for the site*, but having someone force me to write regularly in a non-academic context made me more confident in my writing abilities and gave me a body of work that other people read.

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Lying to Bouncers, Dancing with Nerds: SB ’11

So much plaid, everywhere.

SXSW 2011 / Shashi Bellamkonda / CC BY 2.0

After my weird little half-week and a weekend back from Spring Break, I am fully readjusted to not living out of a suitcase (yay!). I am not the sort of person who does well with traveling–somehow my clothes always wind up smelling weird and I wear the same outfit six time even though I overpacked. It’s not attractive.

I spent the break, along with two additional being-a-truant days, in Austin with Kelly, Shep, and Laura from HackCollege exploring the unconference aspects (ie, networking and parties) of South by Southwest Interactive. I was glad the trip wound up happening in part because it gave me an excuse to see some relatives I have not seen in several years, and because it involved tacos*, which are one of those foods that are delicious and that Georgians just don’t do.**

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StudyBlue Creates On-the-Go Flashcards

StudyBlue has the hippest layout since Tumblr and an excellent flashcard feature, to boot.

If you’re looking for a browser-based note-taking and flashcard tool, StudyBlue may be your new favorite site. Because the service is targeted specifically at students, it’s organized in ways that closely mirror the binders of notes that it hopes to replace: data is organized by classes, and the two content options (note and flashcards) closely mimic their analog counterparts. However, unlike paper-based notes, these are accessible from any browser and can include rich text, sound, and images.

The easy-to-use interface and text formatting tools are strong points for the service. Sign-up takes thirty seconds, and only requires visiting the site’s front page and clicking an email confirmation link. The formatting tools work just like they would in a desktop text editor, but they focus on what’s useful for note-taking: lists, indentations, colors, and super- and subscript. I know that the science, tech, math, and engineering students I know have trouble taking computer notes because equations are difficult to type out. The dedicated super- and subscript buttons could make typing out STEM equations worlds easier. StudyBlue has nailed a feature that is rarely implemented as well or as cleanly as it is with the service. There is also a non-English character button, but cycling through it to get to the right Greek letter is probably less efficient than just learning the keyboard shortcuts for the letters.

Read the rest at HackCollege.

HackCollege Interview: Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. Image courtesy of Flickr user JD Lasica. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC.

FTC Disclosure: Microsoft paid for my trip to New York, my hotel, and my food. Blogging is awesome!

It’s a weird thing to sit down with $14.5 billion, but on Monday I did just that. As part of the Windows Phone 7 launch at the Microsoft Open House, I had the chance to sit down with Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, and ask him about the future of Microsoft’s relationship with students–especially in light of their release of Windows Phone 7–the future of technology, and what students should be doing to break into tech fields.

We started off the interview talking about Windows Phone 7, as the press conference about the new phones had happened just a few hours earlier. Ballmer was, unsurprisingly, adamant that he thinks Windows Phone 7 phones are the best choice for college students. He said that user experience with Android phones is patchy–it’s hard to know an Android phone is an Android phone when you pick it up–and iPhones only offer one model, ignoring that some people might want a QWERTY keyboard or different speakers. He’s of the opinion that giving students a “consistently delightful” (yes, that’s really the slogan) user experience over a variety of phones will draw them back from competing smartphone options. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but for middle-of-the-road users (people who don’t want to root their Android phone and who want something more rugged than an iPhone), he may have steered Microsoft towards a winning strategy.

Read the rest on HackCollege.

Anthologize Heads the Next Generation of Self Publishing

Anthologize is decked out in the soothing orange and cream color scheme of progress.

If you’ve got a blog running WordPress (the self-hosted .org variety), Anthologize is a plugin which will allow you to publish your posts as a PDF, ePub, or TEI (a scholarly file format). There’s also an RTF option, but the creators point out that it’s still buggy. There is not currently an option to export files as DocX or ODT, but the program’s creators say it’s a feature to look for in future builds, along with the ability to export comments left on the original posts.

Anthologize is targeted at academics–for instance, professors who kept a class blog, or someone who wants to distribute their notes about a conference, or someone who wants to publish field notes as part of a research notebook. The academic focus is a result of the plugin’s origin at the One Week, One Tool program, in which 12 humanities scholars come together and conceive of and build a useful open source digital tool within a week. The program, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, sees itself as sort of a digital barn raising: a group of people coming together to make something useful for the wider community.

Read the rest at HackCollege.

Riot Grrls Rise Up (Also, Vervets)

So, in case you were wondering what I’ve been up to, it involves vervet skulls. (Yes, I do spend an inordinate amount of time in the skull lab. To the point that the work-study student there is sad when I do not visit. You too can hook up with a Huffington Post-published blogger/librarian/skull enthusiast! Fellas.)

Other than that, I’ve been in that weird state where I know I’m ungodly busy (I’m taking 5 classes, sitting in on another, TA-ing, and writing for HackCollege, a college profile book, and OpenStudy. Hahah, I make terrible life decisions.) but it doesn’t feel that way. Either this is what time budgeting feels like or I’m precariously juggling all my responsibilities right now and at any moment I’m going to go teetering off the precipice into despair and scholarship loss. Tune in to find out!

Other than that, I’ve mostly been musing about why I am so bothered about college blogs targeted at women. (I also have not been studying for Social Problems. Correlation?) I think what it is about it is that there is ample space for publications both print and intertubular to address 18-23-year-old women, but they so rarely are. Bust skews a little bit older (it assumes you’re out of school), and Jezebel isn’t focused on issues affecting women in college so much as in pop culture. My own beloved employer doesn’t address women’s issues because it’s not a focus of the blog, and the women’s college blogs that are out there are so completely derangedly unrelated to my experience as a woman in college.

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WebGreek Provides Information Management for Greek Life

These ladies know that better information management gives you more time to perfect your grim staring and Gibson Girl hairstyle. Image courtesy of Albion College Special Collections. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-ND.

As we saw in Sean’s post, sometimes communicating with your Greek organization can present its own unique set of challenges. WebGreek is attempting to address them by making an information management suite targeted at Greek organizations.

The service isn’t free–$19/month for under 40 members, $39/month for under 100 members, and $59/month for everyone else–but they seem to be banking on the fact that Greek organizations will pay for ease of use.

Once a group signs up, it gets a chapter page on which users can see a group calendar, links to nationals, uploaded files, or whatever users have added to the public space. WebGreek has a built-in text editor and list maker, as well as plans to add a bill collection feature soon. Each chapter gets 10GB of cloud storage and 20GB of bandwith. Each individual member gets 1GB of storage to do with what they please.

Read more at HackCollege.

Make Life Easier: Ask a Librarian

Librarians: they're like superheroes in that they save you during finals and have secret lairs. Image courtesy of Flickr user Monika Bargmann. Licensed under CC 2.0 BY-NC-ND.

The school library (or, if you’re at a big school, libraries) are part of almost every college tour. Of course, in the age of digital information, the actual books contained in the library are no longer students’ most important resource at the library–instead, the librarians are.

Though often overlooked and under appreciated, librarians can make a student’s life much easier if they’re asked. Though your school may not have a program as intensive as Drexel’s personal librarian program, where freshmen get their own librarian to show them the research ropes, even the most unassuming librarian has training to help you find out what you need to know. If you’re looking for places to start, try these suggestions:

Instant Message a Librarian – Many universities have their librarians set up on Meebo, a site-nested instant messaging client that became unexpectedly very popular with the librarian community. If your university has a Meebo setup, you can anonymously ask librarians a silly or embarrassing question (where is the science building?), renew a book without going to the library, or ask them to help you when a professor has screwed up putting a book you need on reserve. A smaller number of schools even have a “text a librarian” feature for when you’re away from a browser. If your school doesn’t have either of these services set up, the Alexandrian Public Library, Texas State University Library, and Emory University Library all offer chat widgets that you can use for non-school-specific questions.

Read the rest at HackCollege.