Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Sister the Sister

My sister is a Sister, that is, a nun. And not just any kind of nun. She’s a full-blown habit-bedecked cloister-enclosed sort of nun.

It’s kind of odd that Sister Mary Giovanna of the Sacred Stigmata P.C.C. (formerly Karen Lynn Day) came out of my family. We weren’t Catholic, you see. My parents, former Methodists, stopped attending church after a few disheartening episodes of church bullying (more on that later). Thus, Sundays were for sleeping late, reading the comics, and watching Dad mow the lawn in his Bermuda shorts and allergy mask.

But something mysterious took root in my sister’s heart when she was a high school student. Her social studies class took a field trip to different churches in Albuquerque as part of a unit on religion. My sister said that when the group visited the Catholic church, she sensed God there.

She decided to visit a Catholic church for real, so she called her friend Cindy, who was a Catholic, and asked if she could go with her to Mass the next Sunday. “Why?” Cindy asked, baffled. “Because I want to,” my sister replied.” “But, why?” Cindy repeated, incredulous that anyone should want to go to Mass voluntarily.

But my sister did go voluntarily, and soon she was attending--religiously.

None of us in the family really understood the extent to which Karen loved Catholicism. I suspect my parents thought it was a faze that she would eventually outgrow. Oh, but it wasn’t a faze.

I remember the night she revealed to me her ultimate dreams, swearing me to secrecy. “Susan,” she said, her voice quivering with excitement. “I’m going to become a nun.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I want to do something that will allow me to pray and to sing and to play music all day long for God.” “Oh,” I said simply. I didn’t understand it completely, but I could sense her happiness. Besides, being a nun suited her.

My parents, however, were crushed. In their view, she was throwing her life away, her potential locked up with a bunch of old maids who thought they were married to Jesus. As far as they were concerned, she might as well have joined a cult.

But, they let her go even though it broke their hearts. She joined the Poor Clare Nuns, a Franciscan order. Happily, there was a monastery only four hours from Albuquerque, in Roswell, home of UFOs and about forty nuns.

Over time, my folks learned to accept Karen’s choice, and, as she blossomed in the fertile soil of contemplative living, they even grew to celebrate it.

Many people are quite curious when they find out my sister’s a nun. “What on earth does she do all day?” they wonder. “Doesn’t she want to get married?” others ask, mystified. “You mean she stays in that monastery all the time and doesn’t come out?” still others demand. And, there’s always the Evangelical who wants to know, “But, is she saved?”

In response: (1) she prays for the world all day and in the middle of the night, too. (2) She considers herself married to Jesus, and I’ve heard he’s quite the bridegroom. (3) Yes, except for doctor’s appointments and medical emergencies. (4) She loves Jesus with her soul and has devoted her life entirely to God. What do you think?

My sister’s Catholic; I’m Protestant. And, while we don’t always approach spirituality the same way, we’re both on the same journey.

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool having a sister who’s a Sister.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Favorite Mac Software (So Far)

I’ve owned my Macbook for almost two months now, and I’ve added a bunch of software that has been just terrific. I thought I would compile a list of software I have found to be the most helpful along with a “wish list” of things I hope to add in the future. As an academic, most of these programs relate to my job as an educator, but some are simply helpful things to have on a Mac. I’ve noted when the programs offer an educational discount to students and/or professors.

Applications I Own

Adium Instant messaging application. Adium has a highly customizable interface which makes it more fun to use than iChat. Unfortunately you can’t do video chat with it, but since I don’t know many people who do video chat anyway, that isn’t a problem. Free.

AppZapper An application that completely removes other applications you no longer want on your Mac. Since I’ve been experimenting with lots of new programs, it’s nice to have something that gets rid of all the extraneous, hidden files when you delete an application off your computer. $12.95.

Bookpedia A terrific program that allows you to catalog your library. The best part is that you can use your iSight camera to read the barcodes on books--then all the information on the book is automatically loaded into the application. If you can’t find the cover art for a book, you can use the iSight camera to photograph the book itself (the program automatically provides a grid so you can place the book cover properly). A free iPhone version is available so that you can carry your library with you everywhere. Note: Bookpedia is substantially cheaper than the better-known Delicious Library (which is $40.00), and while Delicious might have more “bells and whistles,” if it does, I couldn’t figure out what made it so much more expensive. $18.00.

Circus Ponies Notebook Note taking software that utilizes a notebook metaphor. I initially purchased this as a replacement for the Windows-only One Note, and while I may continue using it for note taking, I’m seriously considering Scrivener (see below) which seems more suited to the kind of research and writing I do. Nevertheless, I have found a wonderful application for this program. I have converted a textbook I wrote into Notebook format. For the past ten years, or so, I’ve printed this textbook through our university printshop and asked students to purchase it through our bookstore. With Circus Ponies Notebook, however, I’ve turned the text into an Internet-based document (you can export the notebook in HTML). Now, students can click on weblinks and go directly to those pages. I’ve been able to add numerous illustrations, links within the document itself, and images. It’s completely transformed my book into something dynamic and interactive. Plus, it will be much easier to update and revise than the printed version I used to produce. $49.95; academic license $29.95.

Eaglefiler A database filing system. Eaglefiler provides a place to file all your digital detritus (or, as the case may be, all your important digital stuff). You can put almost anything in Eaglefiler, including PDFs, web archives, pictures, sound files, etc. One of the best features of Eaglefiler is its hot key function, which allows you to set up a key combination to save web pages as web archives. You needn’t leave Safari or whatever web browser you’re in to use the hot key. Eaglefiler also has a drop box function that you can set up, but thus far I haven’t figured out how to use it efficiently. It’s really nice to have a place to put old email (you can archive your Mac inbox in Eaglefiler), store web pages and PDFs, and accumulate research materials. I wavered between Eaglefiler and Devonthink Pro for a long time, but the simplicity of Eaglefiler is what won me over. That, and the price. Devonthink Pro was considerably more expensive and its interface wasn’t user friendly. $40; educational discount 33% = $26.80.

EazyDraw An illustration program. I’m using this to create illustrations for my Old Testament Overview textbook (see Notebook above). In spite of the name, I’ve found this program anything but easy to use. The interface is somewhat clunky (but that may be because I’m still figuring out how to use it). Nevertheless, I’ve been able to create some pretty cool illustrations with it. $95 (but you can have full use of the program for 9 months for $20).

Growl A notification program that integrates with Adium, Gmail, NetNewsWire, Shovebox, Macjournal and many other programs. Offers an unobtrusive pop-up window which is configurable. Free.

LaunchBar Easily launch applications and other things using the keyboard rather than mouse. $20.

MacJournal Journal writing software with easy export to blog. I chose this one because I preferred its UI over other journaling programs. One feature I especially like is full screen mode, which gives you a dark screen, green type (which is surprisingly easy on the eyes), and hides all other distractions. I use this feature quite often when I want to focus only on writing. $34.95 with a 25% off discount for educators making it $26.21.

NetNewsWire RSS reader. I tried Google Reader, but it was just overkill--too much on one page all at once. I love the interface of NetNewsWire. It’s simple; it sits in my dock and lets me know if it’s downloaded anything, and there’s an iPhone version. Free.

Novamind Pro Mindmapping software. I downloaded the trial version of this and was instantly hooked. I’ve discovered that I am not a linear thinker, and mind mapping allows me to think in all directions at once. Novamind’s program is easy to use (though I’ve only scratched the surface of all that it’s capable of doing, so there is a learning curve), colorful, professional looking, and great for brainstorming, creating visuals of concepts, and even for diagrams. I’ve been using it for almost everything I do, from planning a garage sale to planning classes. Even though it’s by far the most expensive program I’ve purchased, it’s worth every penny, and I highly recommend it. $149; with the educational discount, $104.

Shovebox Quick note program with filing capabilities. I tried Sidenote, but it drove me crazy--it would pop out when I really didn’t want it to. Shovebox sits quietly in your menubar. You can drag things straight to the menubar, highlight text in another application and set a hotkey that will past it into Shovebox, and you can set up a hotkey for “Quickjot” whenever you need to write a note or reminder but don’t want to leave the application you’re in. You can easily drag URLs, pictures, web archives--anything to Shovebox for later filing. Very handy. $24.95; with 40% student discount, $14.97.

SplashID Secure storage of data. I started using SplashID when I had a Treo 600. It’s an excellent program for filing any secure information. I have the iPhone desktop version, so I can sync the data on my Mac with my iPhone so I always have it with me. This program has saved me multiple times, because I can’t remember user names and passwords. Plus, for online shopping it’s very handy because you can store credit card information on it. The best feature, in my view, is the quick copy button. On the right side of any fill-in information is a little clipboard. You click that once to copy your credit card number, password, etc. That way, none of your keystrokes can be copied by identity thieves. What I don’t like about this software is that it still looks just like Treo software. It’s inelegant and kind of clunky. I have eWallet on my iPhone as well, and it has a beautiful interface. When they come out with a desktop version, I’ll probably switch to eWallet. Desktop version: $19.95; iPhone only version $9.99.

TextExpander Create snippets to make typing faster. This is a great little program that I’m only beginning to use effectively. You can create rules for snippets that you have to type often. For example, I’ve created a snippet for my work signature, so when I type w-k-s-i-g I get my name, title, address, phone number, and email address in a flash. You can use it to quick insert dates and other information. You can even create rules for words you frequently misspell. You can download snippet databases, such as one for words with diacritical marks and one for frequently misspelled words. I need to sit down and come up with more snippets. The more snippets you create, the more helpful the program is. A timesaver, for sure. $29.95, with educational discount it is $20.96.

Things To do program with a simple, fresh interface. I’ve tried and tried to do “Getting Things Done,” but it gets so complicated that I wind up giving up. Things can be used for the GTD approach, but it offers a simplified interface that makes keeping a To Do list much easier and less cluttered. Things divides tasks into three sections: collect, focus, and organize. Collect is your inbox where you put everything first. Next, you can place your todos into “Today,” “Next,” “Someday,” and “Scheduled,” as a means of ordering tasks’ priorities. Then, you can organize your todos into categories, give them tags, set dates, etc. Hardcore GTD-ers might not like Things because it doesn’t follow the GTD principles verbatim. For that you can get Omnifocus (see below). But for me, Things is perfect. There’s an iPhone version as well, and the developer is hard at work to make the desktop and iPhone versions syncable. Free (for now, but will cost $49.00 in the future; if you sign up for their newsletter you’ll be able to buy it for $39.00).

Applications I’m Considering

Bookends Bookends is a reference database. It’s made for academic types who want a place to deposit all their resources from research. It can generate bibliographies and footnotes in a whole host of styles, including Turabian. You can export to Word, but from what I’ve read, there are still some bugs to work out there. The program works best in conjunction with Mellel (see below). The developer of this program is very active and helpful. $99.00. There is a student discount which brings the price down to $69.00 but faculty aren’t eligible for that. You can buy Bookends together with Mellel for $109.00 (students $89), which seems to be the best deal.

Mellel A sophisticated word processor designed for academics with support for multiple languages and right-to-left typing (great for Hebrew). I haven’t played around with this program much yet, and there seems to be a pretty high learning curve. Nevertheless, I can see its potential, especially in conjunction with Bookends (above). You can export Mellel docs as Word docs, so you can communicate with the rest of this Microsoft-based world, but I’m hesitant as of yet to commit to a non-Word word processor after finally converting to Word from WordPerfect. $49.00; educational discount $35.00.

Scrivener A writing program with a cork-board/index card interface. This is a unique, very intriguing program. It is designed for writers of all types--academic, fiction, screenwriters, etc. It’s sort of like a data repository, organizer, writing center all in one. But it’s not a word processor. Once you’ve gotten your draft like you want it, you are supposed to export from Scrivener into your word processor of choice for final editing and formatting. One of the coolest features is the split screen where you can work on two different documents at once--useful if you’re using a PDF article as a source and you want to do a direct quote, or if you want to compare different sections of your own document. Like MacJournal, Scrivener also offers a full-screen, focus on writing only mode. The cork board is really interesting--it’s basically like having your old index cards from the olden days in digital form. You can edit and rearrange them at will. Since I’m a visual learner/writer, this aspect alone is very satisfying. $39.95; educational discount $34.99.