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Taking Advantage of Social Media & Tech to Do My Job Better

For my first real post on this blog, I want to talk about a project that I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for over a year now.

The Problem

I schedule at least five office hours per week. [I’m there a LOT more, but these are scheduled hours, the same from week to week throughout a given semester, when people can more or less count on me to be there.]

The problem is that as chair, I’m involved in number of on and off-campus committees, many of which, of necessity, conflict with those office hours.  Although I try to let students and department faculty know about these changes in advance, the fact is that sometimes these meetings are scheduled at the last minute, sometimes they just run late, and sometimes  I just don’t want to overwhelm my students and colleagues with a torrent of emails about my office hours that the vast majority will just delete and don’t need.

Also, as chair, there are a number of people who stop by my office, expecting me to be there, regardless of scheduled office hours (needing forms signed, questions answered, advice given, complaints heard, or just to hang out).

The Plan

So, early in 2008, after a year of having been on Twitter, I began to wonder if there was some way to use an account to update where I was.  Then, via my spouse, I ran across this post by an assistant principal who figured out how to keep a monitor in his office that he could update from elsewhere to let his staff and students know where he was.  So, I grabbed the Twitter handle, wheresthechair, as a test account until I could figure out how to do it.  The problem was one of hardware and location.  I didn’t want to leave my door open all the time (as the school principal did), but I also couldn’t figure out how to get a monitor outside the office without just leaving a laptop outside the door.

I played around with the idea of taking an old laptop and converting it to a digital picture frame that I could mount outside, but there’s a reason that I titled (& sub-titled) this blog the way that I did:  I’m not really that handy.

So, I mostly played around with various ideas and kept looking for a solution that would meet my needs and my skill level.  And then I ran across this Samsung series of picture frames.   Like many other digital frames, they can play slideshows of images from internal memory (1 GB) or from SD or other memory cards.  Unlike most other frames, however, they also have a mini-monitor function which allows you to hook them up directly to a computer just using a USB port.  The frame then becomes an extension of your desktop.  [As far as I know, it’s Windows only at this point.]

The Project

So, I got one of the 8-inch frames and set it up last week outside my office.  I needed to do the following to make it work:

1) Install the frame’s drivers (I used the updated ones from the Samsung site).

2) Install the Firefox add-on ReloadEvery so that the Twitter page will refresh itself.

2b) I’ve also played around with Tweetdeck which automatically checks, but the text layout on it isn’t quite as flexible.

3) I used a 16-ft USB repeater cable and a 10- ft USB extension since the computer I’m using is nowhere near the door.  I also needed a power extension cord since the included one was not long enough. I was fortunate enough to have a door on my new (temporary) office that has plenty of room under the door for the power and USB cable to fit.

4) I tucked the cables under the rug, along the wall and under the door.

5) I attached the monitor to the wall outside my door.

Mini-Monitor

Mini-monitor using Tweetdeck

Mini-monitor 2

Mini-monitor outside my office

So, now, I can update my status on the fly. I can tweet from my computer in meetings that I’ll be late and it will show up on the monitor outside my door.  If nothing else, my colleagues will know to tell people to check my twitter account for updates of where I am.

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Comments?

This site….

My goal here is to talk about a few of the hardware/software projects I’ve worked on lately.  This is largely a test.

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