Welcome to “Tools of the Trade”

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I’ve always had an appreciation for tools. Because I grew up in Seattle in the 1980-90s, quite a lot of my tool-loving energy was spent playing in a digital space while listening to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. I wrote my first BASIC code when I was 9, built a PC from harvested parts when I was 11, taught myself C programming when I was 13, and installed the first Linux Kernel (1.0) on my own homebrew 386 PC in 1994. All this tinkering and my proximity to the new headquarters of high tech – the Microsoft headquarters was three miles away from my childhood home (all those dot.com millionaires totally ruined our forests with their McMansions) – led to some unusual opportunities. Because Unix experience was still pretty unusual, I was recruited as a teenager to run the email server for our School District. I did PC and network repair on the side, hung out on a lot of IRC channels, tried my best to repel hackers (my teenage friends) and learned quite a lot about computer networks by the time I was ready to head off to college. For a variety of reasons, I took degrees in Music and Literature and kept my IT work strictly professional through a campus maintaining our network infrastructure. After all that time spent in virtual worlds, it felt good to work with my hands – installing ethernet switches, terminating fiber optic cables, and crimping phone wire in strange closets across campus – including a fallout shelter and a bell-tower. At this point google was still ugly, myspace was cool, and the digital humanities weren’t really on anyone’s radar. I took a break from academic study to support my wife while she worked on postgraduate study and took up a series of different jobs at a telecommunications start-up in upstate New York.

Fast forward about 10 years to the present day: now I’m a lecturer in the School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion. My research and publications are in religious ethics – on issues of technology, design and the environment. I still love tools, and things are a lot more exciting in the digital space. But in my experience, academics in the humanities are just too busy to stay on top of the technology, and frankly there are a lot of alluring time wasters out there clamouring for attention.

I’ve started this blog in order to share some of the digital tools and techniques I’ve been collecting over the years. I have strong opinions about what makes a good tool and I won’t mince words on this blog. I hope you’ll feel free to pitch in and share from your own experience. I see digital technologies as a promising way of delivering more innovative research and teaching in higher education, but I also see a lot of people in higher education wasting a lot of time and money which could be devoted towards improving our offerings on many levels. This perspective sets my main criteria for a tool: it must make something better, whether research goal or learning objective, without wasting extra time.

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