June 25, 2012

Tricks and Tips for Information Gathering

First, an apology: Sorry for the confusion on the earlier publication. I was still working on this article under a similar title and had an argument with Blogger's software. It tried to print out the article. When I hit "cancel", it published the incomplete article in mid-sentence. That was annoying, and unfortunately went out into people's feeds. (You know that someone has not read the article when they "Like" something incomplete within seconds of its publication.) This was twelve days ago.

This information should prove useful for a variety of people. There is information about the Kindle, but if you do not have one, keep reading. I put things in there for non-Kindle owners as well.

Let me lay the foundation with my own situation, and you can substitute your own situation and needs.

I need to spend a great deal of time learning things in Christian apologetics and Biblical creationism. So, my need for information gets me into science, theology — and Internet technology. There are a number of sources for what I need, and I am rather overwhelmed at the wealth of materials available. What's a researcher (or student, or teacher, or pastor, or...) to do?

It startled me the first time I read, "You have subscribed to...", and I thought, "Waitaminnit! I didn't agree to pay for this!" But no, these are "feeds" and they are free. Instead of going to certain Websites several times a week (or several times a day, in some cases), you can have information conveniently delivered to your reader. Many feeds have the entire article. Other feeds are partials or just announcements. Well, then you know it's waiting for you.

Some Web browsers have feed readers built right in (check the "Help" files on how to use them). You can also use a reader that is built into mail clients like Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird and others. If you have Gmail, you have a variety of Google's applications available. This includes their Reader, which resembles Web page with content that you have selected. I like using my Thunderbird mail client for feeds that are primarily text, and Google Reader for podcasts (audio).

Send it to an E-Book Reader
As I have made obvious here and elsewhere, I am a big fan of my Kindle Touch. (I know people who are quite pleased with their Nook devices, but I have never used one. Nook and Kindle dominate the market, but other readers are available.) There are several services that will send that fascinating Internet article to your Amazon account, which then routes it to your Kindle. They have bookmarklets and so forth that install in your browser. Free account, free software. How good is that? One of my favorites is SENDtoREADER, as it is the most consistent in rendering pages for the device.

Amazon has a small bit of software that will let you right-click and "Send to Kindle" documents on your desktop. It also integrates into your system software so that, if you can print something, you can send it to the Kindle in the PDF format.

Related to this is that you can make your own e-book. I will not go into the serious e-book stuff, but rather offer a "grab it and go" approach for the busy researcher. If you're putting a document together in Word (or using Google Drive, formerly Google Docs, or Zoho, or one of the Open Source word processor applications that will "Save As" a Word document, &c.), remember that it can become an e-book. Then your creation can be sent to the Kindle via that right-click option or your e-mail (with "convert" in the subject line). Other e-book systems can use Calibre to convert personal documents into e-books as well. I'm bringing this up partially because of my own forgetfulness, that there are powerful tools right in front of me to get my documents onto my e-reader. If you subscribe to Paul Taylor's newsletter, you can get a free e-book on how to make e-books.

PDF can be read on e-book readers, but many are awkward to read there. Use the iPad you spent $700 USD or for that, or your PC. Some PDFs are too full of graphics and do not convert well. Others are mostly text and convert adequately. It's up to you.

"But Cowboy Bob, what about people who don't have a Kindle?"

Glad you asked Tommy. Where's Nicky? Still sleeping it off?

Anyway, another effective tool is "Kindle It". The main operation is like others of its kind: Get a free account, install the free software in your browser, click a button and bada bing! Here's your article, Ashley. But Kindle It provides another option! You can right-click and save your document in Mobi or ePub formats. Then, you can fire it off to your e-book reader according to your configuration.

Video to Audio
Videos have exploded in popularity. There are several sources for videos, especially YouTube and Vimeo. I do not have time to watch lengthy ones, despite the fact that they contain interesting or valuable information. However, I can convert many videos to MP3s and listen to them with a player of some sort. (Do a search for "convert video to MP3" and you will see that quite a few kinds are available, many are Web browser bookmarklets or plug-ins.) When I listen to the former video file, I can still get the gist of what is being communicated even though I cannot see graphics that the lecturer may be discussing. If I feel that I'm missing out on too much, I can make a point of actually watching the video later on. Time, priorities and that sort of thing.

Speed Up Your Listening
Now I have a bucketful of MP3s from converted videos and from podcasts that will take days to get through. How nice for me. Fortunately, many players can run them at a higher rate. (Windows Media Player is not telling me, but I think I am playing at 2x speed.) A bit startling at first, but the human mind can process it. Fortunately, the pitch does not change so that the speakers do not sound like angry squirrels. I could not handle that. Some audios will not work well, they are just too fast. Interestingly, some people are so meticulous and measured in their speaking in real life, the fast playback makes them sound normal!

Book to Audio
Well, sort of. I have not reached the 3,000 book capacity of my Kindle Touch, but sometimes it feels like I have. But it has a text-to-speech feature, so I can listen to Electric Ernie or Digital Diane (I just made those names up), Amazon gives us a choice of two voices. (Text-to-speech has significantly advanced from the early days of sounding like Stephen Hawking's voice processor on sedatives.) To be blunt, it would drive me up the wall to listen to a work of fiction this way. Text-to-speech takes some getting used to in and of itself, plus it has some quirks that can be amusing. It is not a threat to the audio book industry.

Dr. James White plugs his Kindle into his computer and lets it read long text pieces while he records it. His software (I know not what) makes "chapters" like it was a real audio book. Then he puts it onto his MP3 player so he can listen to it on his long bicycle rides. As far as I know, text-to-speech is only available on certain Kindle devices. No worries, Mate! If you're interested, you can get software to do the job. Text-to-speech is available in free and pay versions.

By the way, I also have a hand-held digital voice recorder. When I'm occupied and I get an inspiration, I can make a quick note to myself so I can pursue the idea later. Since I am not trying to get EVPs, I did not get a high-end model.

So, there you have some options. Hopefully, I was able to tell you something that you did not already know.

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