Spaces (Mac OSX Leopard only)

One of the best new features, in my opinion, that Apple released for Leopard was Spaces. This new feature allows users to have anywhere from 1 to 16 different desktops. I love this function, as it allows me to keep all of my apps in different desktops, depending on what I’m using them for.

Right now I’m running 9 spaces in a 3×3 grid.  I had 4 in a 2×2, but found that I needed more, then I had 6 in a 3×2, but found that I’m weird and don’t like having my spaces form a rectangle. I like squares.

When Leopard numbers your spaces, it starts with the one in the upper-left-hand corner and counts left to right, so that the lower-right-hand corner is the highest number – in my case, 9. You can use keyboard shortcuts to switch between spaces, either by moving from one space to the adjacent one, or by specifying which space you want to navigate to. Let’s review:

To move to adjacent spaces, use Ctrl + arrow keys. When you do this, it automatically wraps around corners, so to get from space 3 to 4 is simply Ctrl + right arrow key. It does the same for going from 9 to 1 and back again.

To specify the specific space you want to move to, press Ctrl + number of space. This is easy if you are in space 5 and want to get to space 1 without the extra keystroke you’d use to go from 5 to 2 to 1.

However, the biggest advantage I see in Spaces is the ability to keep all your apps grouped together by function or purpose. For example, I keep all my communication apps in Space 1 – Mail and iChat – and iCal and Stickies stay in that space as well. I keep Safari in 2, Firefox in 3 if I use it, iTunes in 4, and so on. Most of the apps that I use on a regular basis have a space that they stay in, because I will lose them otherwise.

This meant that I always had to switch to the space I wanted my app to open in before I clicked it, so it really would open there, or open it and then move it. Not anymore.

You can assign your applications to always open in the same space. Automatically. I didn’t notice this until recently, when I saw a little box titled “Application Assignments”. To find it, open System Preferences, click on Expose and Spaces, and then select the Spaces tab. To add an assignment, click the little + sign underneath the box, select the application from the list, then tell the computer which space to assign the app to, using the drop-down menu.

This little function means my Safari windows always open in Space 2, and Numbers and Pages stay separate – very helpful for homework assignments that require me to keep flipping back and forth between them. I’m sure it’s been there for a while, and I just didn’t notice it, but if you are weird about keeping your Spaces organized too, and didn’t know about it, make sure you check it out.

I like finding more ways to personalize my computer for my preferences. It just means when I use a different computer, I have to remember that it’s different.

Sleep and Rest

Have you ever woken up one morning and realized there was just no way your body was going to let you do anything that day?  A lot of people have written about the concept of taking a day off to let your body relax, but I think few realize how important it actually is to your physical and mental health.

Human beings are not designed to live without rest.  This becomes blatantly obvious when referring to sleep, as the human body can only go about 10 or 11 days without sleep before it shuts down.  However, there is a difference between sleep and rest.

Recently, I was working three jobs and going to college full time.  There was a period of about two and a half weeks where I did not get a single day off work, and actually worked all three jobs on the same day one time.  Like a lot of people, I get sick when I’m stressed or don’t sleep enough.  I told myself that I would make sure I was getting enough sleep at night, and that would be the way to make sure this working marathon didn’t leave me unable to get out of bed for three days.  (I also took a multivitamin every day, which may have helped.)  I didn’t get sick, but I was exhausted.  I quickly figured out that even though I was sleeping enough, I was still doing too much for my body to handle.

I started to get panicky after a while.  I never had a full-blown panic attack, but I came pretty close.  I started worrying that I wasn’t going to be able to get everything done, and this really wore on me.  I was exhausted and stressed, and I’m still very surprised I didn’t get sick.

Now, I’m back to only working two jobs, one of which I haven’t been scheduled for the last couple of weeks, and I’m on Spring Break.  This week of sleeping late and setting my own schedule except for a few hours at work every afternoon has been wonderful.  It has given me some much-needed time of both sleep and rest.  The sheer knowledge that I have all morning to relax and do whatever I want has been perfect.  I actually pity all the college students who have been stressed out and then went away for spring break – you have no idea what you’re missing.

I haven’t been bored: I have found new things to do, new ways to use my time.  I haven’t been stressed.  I’ve been more relaxed than I have in a long time.

That’s what I really want my readers to consider.  Yes, you sleep every night, but if you are in class or at work every day, are you really resting?  Earlier, I mentioned that sleep and rest are necessary to your physical and mental health.  I’d like to hypothesize that sleep is necessary to your physical health – you will die without it; and rest is necessary to your mental health.  Without enough rest, I think many people will go crazy with worry and stress.  It’s hard to deal with daily life if you don’t take the time to absorb it all.

Of course, what are you supposed to do if you have to be in class or at work 7 days a week?  Maybe it’s time to consider taking a day off.  Do your classes count attendance?  Even if they do, I’m sure you can afford to miss just one day.  Can you get the notes from someone else?  Does your job offer you sick days?  How about the time-tested method – just sound sick when you call in.

Think about it this way: isn’t it better to call in sick one day this week than to actually get sick and be forced to miss three days next week, or the week after?  It also helps your productivity to be well-rested and relaxed.

Please note that I am not advocating ditching class or work for no good reason.  Your health, both physical and mental, is a very good reason.  Generally, this kind of thing only becomes necessary once a semester.  If you find yourself blowing off classes more often than that, maybe you should consider that waking up every morning with a hangover is really the problem, not just exhaustion.

Get A Job Series on HackCollege

The writers of HackCollege are currently in the middle of a series of posts on how to land that job you really want.  The first few posts deal with how to make sure your online identity is one that you want potential employers to see.  They’ve posted some great advice so far, and I highly recommend it.

Keep up the good work, HackCollege!
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Software Review: Schoolhouse

Every semester I get into productive/organization mode.  I start looking for ways to simplify my life, especially the school and homework parts of it.  At the beginning of this semester, I did some research and found a few different programs designed to help students keep track of their assignments.  This was mostly in honor of my new computer – I wanted to be able to use it as much as possible, so I figured I’d keep my assignments and other related information on it.  Since my MacBook is a lot smaller than my old PC notebook was, I knew that I would be more likely to bring it to class with me, and therefore would have the ability to keep my life organized on it.  (I also make extensive use of iCal and its ability to sync to my iPod for everything outside of school, but that’s another story.)

The program that I finally downloaded and used is called Schoolhouse.  At the beginning of the semester, I copied all the information from my syllabi into its database.  It has places to put all sorts of information, including the names and email addresses of professors, which then syncs to Address Book, and allows you to weight all the assignments.  This was the feature that I really appreciated.  Once the end of the semester comes, I’ll know how much failing that one minor quiz at the beginning of the semester really affected my grade.  Each assignment is labeled as a certain “Kind”, like Quizzes, Exams, and Projects, and each “Kind” can be weighted according to how much it will count toward your final grade.  You can have as many kinds as you want.  Each is custom labeled and weighted.

Once your kinds and weights are set up, you can go through and enter all of your assignments.  When you do that, there are options for giving the assignment a start date as well as a due date, so you know that project that’s coming up hasn’t technically been assigned yet, so you don’t have to work on it yet.  Or something like that.  Each assignment also has a priority level – not important, important, and very important.

One of the aspects of this program that could be very useful for large projects (I just haven’t had very many of those this semester) is the Task List.  Within each of the assignments you create, another tab shows all of the Tasks you have to complete to finish the assignment.  Each of these tasks can be given its own due date, whether that be a professor’s due date for the first draft of a paper, or your own date that you want to have that first draft completed.

Each assignment and task also can incorporate a list of Partners, with names and email addresses.  The Partner lists are searchable, so you can find Dan from your biology lab a little bit faster.  This list also syncs with Address Book.  Partners and professors can be emailed directly from inside Schoolhouse, using the little “Email” buttons that are all over the interface.

The final tab associated with each Assignment is the Files tab.  It allows you to search for a file on your computer, and link it to the assignment so you can find it whenever you need it.

The only problem I have had with the program so far is that it seems a little buggy.  I added a course to the course list at the beginning of the semester, but as it turned out I’m not taking that course.  When I try to delete the course, though, the dreaded Mac “beach ball” shows up and the program stops responding.  I have to Force Quit and restart it.  There have been one or two other times that the program stopped responding or did something else weird too.  I have emailed the developer, asking for advice on this problem, and will post updates on how that works out.  This problem didn’t start until recently, so it worked very well for a couple of months.

Except for the problem I mentioned, I feel that Schoolhouse is an excellent way to keep track of assignments and grades, and may mean I actually know what grades I’m getting before they get posted online at the end of the semester.

Schoolhouse is freeware, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later, only.

Update: No response from the developer. I’ll be looking into another option for next semester. The commenter below, Alex, is right. In the Get Info pane, select the option to “Open with Rosetta”. After I made this switch, I never had another crashing episode.

Integrating Technology Even Further at ACU

Here’s a piece of news that should inspire universities across the country (hint, hint): Abilene Christian University has recently announced that they will be providing all incoming freshmen with either an iPhone or an iPod touch.

“At ACU – the first university in the nation to provide these cutting-edge media devices to its incoming class – freshmen will use an iPhone or iPod touch to receive homework alerts, answer in-class surveys and quizzes, get directions to their professors’ offices, and check their meal and account balances – among more than 15 other useful web applications already developed, said ACU Chief Information Officer Kevin Roberts.”

ACU’s article mentions that 93% of their students already bring computers with them to school, but they are providing their freshmen with these pocket computers on top of what they already own.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a very good idea.  Not only is Abilene providing their students with one of the coolest new toys to come from Apple, but they really are integrating it into their students’ lives.  They have created apps that will help the students in classes, and it sounds like teachers are actually going to use them.  This is the biggest problem I have seen in college – people come up with some great technology that could help to expand the classroom experience, but very few teachers actually use the system.  For example, one of my favorite pet peeves is the teacher who does all his lectures on PowerPoint, but goes so fast you can’t write anything down, and then refuses to post those notes to a website he or she already has up and running anyway.  But enough about me.

“Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, ACU provost, said, ‘This is exciting to me, not only because we’re giving students new tools, but because we are transforming the learning environment.'”

And, in my opinion, they really are.  This idea is perfect for the productivity-minded student who has to have everything with her at all times, and can now put it in her pocket; but it’s also perfect for the organizationally-challenged student who will be able to receive homework reminders anytime, and for the teachers who want to take attendance but can’t be bothered to ask 100 students to sign in.  Oh wait, maybe that last one’s a bad thing.

I think that ACU has the right idea on how to get through to this generation.  Think about it: they’re aiding and encouraging the constant connectivity that sometimes defines this age group, and they’re giving college students free stuff.  It doesn’t get any better than that.
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Don’t Just Survive

How much time does the average American spend in school?  A year in kindergarten, eight years of elementary school, and four years of high school are pretty typical.  If, after graduating high school, this American continues on to college, he or she usually spends four to six years in college.  (Unless you’re Van Wilder.)  All of that adds up to at least 17 years in school.  If you’re going to spend that much time focusing on education, you might as well make the best of it.  High school if for surviving.  College is for living.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to enjoy college.  Not everyone does; that’s simply a fact of life.  If you’re just surviving college, though, maybe it’s time to rethink your methods.  Maybe you’re not the best student, and you’re getting discouraged and frustrated.  Maybe you’re a fantastic student, but you still constantly find yourself pulling all-nighters because you procrastinated until the night before the deadline.  I want to pull together ideas to help students from all sides of the gradebook.

First things first, though.  The University of Arizona, where I am a student, just started Spring Break.  That means that I have a whole week ahead of me to relax and not worry about anything.  If you’re on Spring Break too, get out there and do something fun.  It’ll help your stress levels and clear your head.  If you’re not on Spring Break, I’m sorry.  Feel free to rub my nose in it when you are and I’m not.  However, even if it’s not time for you to have a whole week off, it’s still Friday night.  Go have fun.  Smile, laugh, enjoy yourself.  It’ll help.
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