Cleaning Out the Digital Hametz
by Adrian A. Durlester
At this time of year, as we’re preparing our homes for Passover, when we’re engaged in spring cleaning, when we’re cleaning out the physical hametz from our homes and the spiritual hametz from ourselves, it’s a good time to consider cleaning out our digital closets. Our internal and are clogged with files. Our email archives are full of old messages. Our browser bookmark collections are cluttered and unwieldy. Web pages we have created may have outdated text, or links to other pages that are no longer working. Our Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter and other social media profiles and pages may be similarly in need of attention. Your browsers are full of installed extensions and add-ons that you almost never use or don’t need anymore. I don’t know many people who make it a point to routinely clean out their digital hametz, but I can tell you that it’s a good idea and worth the effort.
There are those who argue that in this age of cheap hard drive and online/cloud storage, there’s less need than there was 10 or even 5 years ago to do this sort of digital housecleaning. While there’s some truth to that, and the urgency of doing some times of digital cleanup has been lessened, it’s still a good idea. Not only does all this digital hametz clog up your systems, it does have an impact on how quickly and smoothly they operate.
There’s plenty of free and commercial software (including software built into existing operating systems) to clean up your hard drives. Not only should and can you use them routinely to clear out temporary files, old installations files, cache files, many of these programs will also allow you to examine all your files and how frequently they’ve been accessed, allowing you to find other files you can probably remove permanently (or at the very least transfer to an archive) . There are de-duper programs that will check your drives for duplicates and allow you to regain more wasted space. While you’re looking at all your files, it might be a good time to consider how they are organized and see if there’s a better way to do so. Also time to decide which files can be deleted or archived. Digital storage probably allows us to be more lenient on how long we keep things around, unlike all the rules of thumb about accumulated paperwork and physical files. Nevertheless, I don’t see it as license to escape the necessity of cleaning out your digital files periodically.
Some web page creation/maintenance software makes it easy to check the status of all the links on your site, and identify ones which might no longer be working. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to look over any pages/sites you may have created (web pages, wikis, blogs, etc.) and see if they need any cleaning, updating, and pruning.
If you’re like me, another place to look for needless duplication is in your contacts. There’s a great application called Scrubly (http://www.scrubly.com/) that can remove/merge duplicate contacts from Outlook, Gmail, and Macs. Some email providers (like Comcast and Yahoo) also provide software to check for duplicates in your contacts. Plaxo also has this capability.
While there’s plenty of technology available to assist with cleaning out your digital hametz, the truth is that the best approach is similar to the simple approach we take to bedikat hametz with spoon, feather, and candle. Take the time to look everything over, to search every little nook and cranny of your computer systems. Do you really use all of the software you have installed? Are there files you can archive to permanent storage elsewhere (on a DVD-Rom, cloud storage, or an external drive dedicated to archiving)? Look over your web pages, wikis, and blogs one at a time. Betcha while looking for out of date text, bad links, et al you find a few previously un-caught typos or grammatical errors, too.
Jeopardy – An enterprising college student has created a website called JeopardyLabs that makes generating Jeopardy-style quizzes and activities quick and easy, and without having to use Powerpoint. Make a small donation to defray his college tuition, and you get a host of additional capabilities. He also has an online test generator called TestMoz.
Mind Mapping: Have you tried using Mind Mapping? While it’s not for everyone, Mind Mapping is a powerful tool for organizing your thoughts-whether it’s for brainstorming, writing an article (or blog entry,) project management, and just about anything that needs help getting organized. There’s no shortage of software or smartphone apps for mind mapping. My personal favorite for use on my computer is Xmind, FreeMind and MindMeister are other great alternatives. On my Android phone, I use Thinking Space. There are lots of apps for the iPhone and software for Macs as well. The Mind Mapping approach can take a little getting used to at first, but you’ll find it worth the effort, as it engages all of your brain.
Blog, Wiki, Google Docs – Which One To Use When – this shared article (Bl0gs, Wikis, Dics: Which is right for your lesson? created by Dr. Mark Wagner) is a great comparison between the features of blogs, wikis, and document collaboration sites like Google Docs. (Note that if you have a Google Docs account and are logged in to Google, this will open with a URL that includes your Google Docs URL, so if you want to pass it on to someone else, use the link URL above.)
Second Life – I have just taken the plunge into Second Life barely getting my toes into the water. There is a wealth of material on how Second Life’s virtual environments can be utilized in education, and I’m eager to explore the possibilities. One thing to know up front – you’ll need to set aside time to learn your way around SL. Might be a good vacation or summer project I’ll be writing more about this in future columns. If you have any SL experiences, tips, ideas, or cautions to share, I’d love to hear them.
Good Time to Buy a Flip Video Camera? Or Not– Cisco, owners of the company that makes Flip portable video camera line has announced they’re going to be discontinuing the Flip product. Flips are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and very useful educational tools. Now and over the next few months might be a good time to pick one up on closeout. Keep your eyes open for Flip clearance sales. That being said, there’s a good reason the Flip flopped. Despite being owned by a company that makes wireless routers, Cisco never made a Wi-Fi-enabled Flip. Cameras and Video capabilities on smartphones quickly eclipsed the Flip, especially with the rise of social media sites and vlogs (video blogs). Just another reason to explore the “using smartphones in the education” bandwagon.
Need more information, some hand-holding, some translation of techo-jargon? Have a resource you’d like to share? You can reach me at my contact points for my Technology in Jewish Education consulting work: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @yoeitzdrian I also blog and tweet as @migdalorguy and @havanashira.