December 2014

2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again. The time where we take a moment, look at the calendar and realize just how quickly this year went by. Whether 2014 was good, bad or somewhere in between, now is the perfect time to look back and reflect on the major happenings of the year. And by looking at what happened recently, maybe we can even predict or prepare ourselves for the future in 2015.

2014 was a pretty revolutionary year for technology. New devices emerged, technology policies were tested, and cybersecurity was exposed again and again. So let’s take a moment to look at tech trends in 2014, virtual and physical, the good and the bad.

Wearables

One of the biggest tech trends this year was the advancement of wearable technology. In particular, health trackers and smart watches were pretty popular this year. With Apple releasing its own smart watch line, and introducing the HealthKit app, Silicon Valley seems to have some pretty strong ideas about what’s important to people. And it’s true. Pebble, Jawbone and Fitbit are continually revising their products to meet new demands. Even Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon (pardon the pun) and released their own health tracking device. Whether the drive for health trackers is a reflection of America’s shift toward healthier lifestyles or simply just a new trend, there’s no doubt that wearable health monitors will continue to be prevalent. With all the data people are gathering about themselves, we could see a major shift in the way we process health data, creating a more comprehensive and personalized health plan. Wearables were an exciting part of 2014, and no doubt their evolution will continue to pervade the future.

Web Design

With all these new devices coming out, companies online are starting to realize they need to adapt their websites so that all consumers can access their precious web pages, no matter how they’re accessing the internet. Responsive web design existed before 2014, but this year is really when the most conversions occurred, according to several online tech blogs. And really, responsive web design is just going to become an online standard, so it’s good many sites took the plunge to revamp their online formatting sooner rather than later. Another huge trend in web design has been the emergence of long, single page web pages. Many modern sites are favoring having all their information for a particular product on one long page that users click or scroll through. Often the pages are broken into sections, which you can jump to or take your time scrolling. New web tools and the desire for simplistic layouts are, in my opinion, the main reason for this trend. And with the amount of information we have nowadays, it makes sense to combine it all onto one page, instead of clicking through to tons of linked pages. It also makes the web developer’s job easier when designing and maintaining fewer pages. This trend might continue into 2015, but we’ll have to see.

Cybersecurity

This year has perhaps been one of the biggest for online security and privacy, and not in a good way. From credit card leaks to Heartbleed to hacks, companies have been beleaguered by flawed cybersecurity. And unfortunately, the average citizen can’t exactly do much about it. Every time you use your credit card online or in a store, there is a chance your information is at risk. But it’s a risk everyone has to take in today’s world, and the best we can do is pressure those with the ability to prevent these hacks in upping their game. Recently having talking to someone on a cybersecurity team at a major retail company, I know that many businesses are doing their best to keep their customers safe and keep their company out of the news. If anything, hopefully the online disasters of 2014 will spur new research into the cybersecurity field and raise current security measures.

So that’s 2014 in a nutshell. Be sure to stay tuned if you want to hear about predictions for 2015 in my next post! I think 2015 will be another exciting year for tech, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Happy New Year!

Research and the Web

At some point you will probably have the need to do some high quality, presentation worthy research. Whether it’s for a college paper or a work presentation, you’ll need solid data and facts to back up your opinions. But before you go scouring the internet for troves of information, beware: not everything on the web is reliable. Wikipedia, although useful for a cursory overview of a topic, is not the best site to source when writing a research paper. Anyone can change the information on Wikipedia, so it’s not reliable. What you need is an action plan for how to find the most reliable and vetted information on the web. So with a little guidance, you can learn how to put the web to work for you.

Search Engines

Search engines are the place to start when youire looking for information. But before you pull up your trusty Google or Bing, note that a general search might not actually be the best way to start looking for information. One of the better places to start is actually Google Scholar, which only searches academic and scholarly work. This is always my number one place to start general research or learning what has already been written about a topic.

If you want to still use a general search engine, try using some operators to narrow your results.

  • Using quotes (” “) around any of your search terms will search for that exact phrase.
  • Use ~ next to a term to search for related words
  • Use a minus sign (-) next to a word to exclude that key word
  • To search for results in a specific time period, enter your date range separated by … (ex. 2008…2010)
  • To search particular websites use the keyword as follows site:siteToSearch.com

One other handy trick: if you want the quick definition of a word, type in define:word in your search bar!

Databases

Sometimes a web search, even a refined one, won’t point you to the right academic material. This is when it’s probably best to search a database of scholarly works, such as academic journals and papers. There are databases for all subjects or just particular areas of study. Some databases require subscriptions, but there are free ones as well. If you’re still in school, your place of study may have a subscription to major databases. Some of the most popular databases include JSTOR (free), EBSCO and ProQuest (subscription), which are general databases. If you’re looking for more specific databases, try starting at http://searchworks.stanford.edu/databases , where you might be able to find specific databases for your area of study.

Citations

The last, and one of the most important parts of research, is citations. If you took the time to find all this great information, make sure you give the authors proper credit where it’s due. If you don’t have the latest version of MLA style citations memorized, there are some really handy websites that generate citations for you. Citationmachine.net has been a longstanding favorite of mine, ever since my 6th grade teacher introduced it to us for a social studies project. Another popular site is easybib.com, which has a wider selection of formats to generate citations for. Between these two websites, as well as looking for built in citations from the original source website (some databases provide citations for you!), you should be covered.

So that’s a quick guide to some quality internet research. I hope you feel more secure in your searching abilities; go take some time now to learn about something you’re curious about! You know your source information will be valid.  🙂

Technology and Information

infoInformation is all around us. There’s that picture you took at the museum last weekend, the text you got from your best friend, even the grocery list on your fridge. Technology has made processing and distributing information easier, through various means such as social media networks, mobile applications and information design. We’ll go through a break down to address the best ways to use technology to manage different forms of information.

Photos

Depending on your reason for capturing sharing photos, there are a few different ways you can go about using technology and photos. If you simply want to share personal photos with friends and family, Facebook and Instagram are a pretty easy and wide reaching way to go. If you want to share with a more professional audience, photo sharing sites such as Flickr are more geared towards handling portfolios and high resolution works.

For editing your amazing photos, software editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop or GIMP are great choices to change your photos until you’re happy with them. These tools can be used by novices and masters alike.

If you want to present your photos into a final product, such as a photobook, services like Shutterstock, Blurb or even Costco let you design and print your pictures in a great formats like books, mouse pads or desk accessories.

Lists, Actions Items, Planners

So many little details of our lives manage to make their ways onto lists that week keep. These lists are usually with information to remember or items with due dates attached to them. Online services, both for desktops and mobile devices, are incredibly useful for managing these little items that may get lost, physically or in our own memories. Many phones come with a reminders app, but I’ll list some of my favorite task managing services. Trello is my latest favorite task manager. You can create boards for different areas of your life, and then create individual “card” that contain all sorts of information (text, links, photos, lists) to complete. These cards can then be archived when you’re done. You can also invite people to collaborate on some or all of your boards, which makes it great for groups or families to communicate with. AnyDo and Wunderlist are some of my favorites for mobile devices, with relatively simple interfaces and easy work flow. For larger note taking, Evernote and OneNote are two great programs that let users create virtual notebooks with different tabs and pages to take notes. OneNote has literally saved my life throughout high school and college. Think of never having to write paper notes again! The speed, the organization… it’s a beautiful thing.

Information/Knowledge

If you have information to spread, such as details for an event or information about destructive logging practices, technology has a bunch of great options to convey this knowledge. Let’s start with simple graphics. Flyers and posters are great ways to raise awareness about a topic or event with just some basic design skills. You can get fancy with Photoshop or Illustrator, but Microsoft Publisher or even Word will do just fine. They have all sorts of default design formats for various events if you need some quick inspiration. Along with basic graphics, infographics are great for sharing knowledge on a specific topic that visually appeals to viewers. People will be drawn to easy to read designs and the constructed flow many infographics follow. Infographics are also especially good to share on social media, such as Facebook or Pinterest.

If you want to get serious about a topic or idea, there are even more routes you can take. One is to try and write on some popular news websites or blogs to share your opinions. You might need to be considered a freelance writer for something like the New York Times, but sites such as Upworthy or Medium are good places to start sharing viral and impactful content. If you really want to dedicate yourself to one idea, and you have the time, you might even consider publishing your own eBook through Barnes and Noble or Amazon. The process is fairly simple, or so I’m told. Finally, if you’re building a business around your idea, having a web site is a great way to begin establishing yourself and sharing information. You can link to your website on your own social media, and people who search for information about your idea or business can find your website too. Web design is a powerful network for navigating information, and it’s only getting better and better.

So there you have it. These are just some of my thoughts about ways to use technology to handle the massive amount of information we see in our lives each day. My only other piece of advice would be to keep experimenting with technology to see what other programs or applications you might find useful or handy in the world of information!