Getting Serious about Languages

I was reading Scott H. Young’s blog post the other day about Ultralearning (which I just call my normal obsessive behavior) and I’ve decided to get serious about learning Spanish and Hebrew. That means daily practice of 15 minutes or more of each language. So far, I’ve been hitting one or both in the mornings for about half an hour. (I would have thought that my brain wouldn’t be awake enough to handle foreign languages first thing, but, surprisingly, I find myself looking forward to doing it and it actually feels good–like stretching gets the stiffness out and makes your body feel awake. Learning a little something first thing wakes my mind up.) And then, just because I’ve become rather addicted to it, I’ve been doing some at lunch and in the evenings as well.

I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve been using Duolingo for Spanish. And that’s been going just swimmingly. (Although, fair warning, conejos and cajones are not related words, even if they sound really similar. ChuckIt took me a minute to figure out why it looked like “my balls are eating carrots.” I mean, granted I don’t know much about the care and maintenance of testicles, but I was pretty sure they don’t eat carrots. Unless maybe they belong to Chuck Norris.)

Learning Hebrew has been a lot more of a struggle, though. I mean, about the only positive thing I can say about it is that it makes me feel like a Spanish genius by comparison. (Which is, admittedly, no small thing; I never cared much for Spanish in school because I felt that I wasn’t very good at it. It was right up there with math as something I could manage to do, but not without a lot of effort.)

Hebrew is traditionally (and modernly) written with almost no vowels (and the vowels that are shown could be consonants in disguise. You don’t know). And there are three basic scripts: traditional, modern, and handwriting. You can think of modern Hebrew script as printing and handwriting as cursive. Traditional script is more like calligraphy. The Torah is written in the traditional script without vowels, while prayer books and other things meant for non-native speakers are written in the traditional script with vowels. These are the letters I learned to read.

Duolingo, however, throws you right in with the modern script and no vowels. So I’m sitting there, looking at a word that consists of one silent letter and an M. How the hell are you supposed to pronounce __mm? Or is there a vowel associated with the silent letter? Maybe it’s really __mm.

Someone fluent in English is going to have little to no trouble reading a text message where most of the vowels are stripped out of it. (Dn’t blve me? Try ths sntnce out fr sze: th qck brwn fx jmpd ovr th lzy dg.) In fact, most people read some sort of bastardized English like that every day. But imagine that you’re Chinese and you are only vaguely familiar with Roman letters. Try learning English via those text messages.

My first attempt at Hebrew on Duolingo was agonizing; even when I completed a lesson, I felt like I really didn’t know anything. But somewhere along the way I heard about Memrise. Memrise also has language learning classes (among other things; they also have a lot of other classes), but whereas Duolingo is more like a language book which gives you whole sentences and makes you write what you hear, translate what you hear, and translate what’s written into and out of the language–i.e. you learn grammar and actually how to speak–Memrise is really just a fancy flashcard system that gives you words one at a time in either English or the target language and you pick the correct answer from multiple choices.

You may think that Memrise is inferior to Duolingo because words without context (i.e. grammar) or without learning to construct whole sentences (i.e. speaking) is a waste. But if you’re in a hurry to learn a language, you will probably prefer to learn as many new words as possible, rather than worrying about putting them in sentences with words you already are familiar with. (When I was in school, learning verb conjugation was of supreme importance, followed by using the gender-correct definite or indefinite article. But in reality you can generally make yourself known if you just know the words; being grammatically correct is nice, but not actually necessary to basic understanding. If a child or foreigner says, “Me wants water,” you know what they mean. Or “Yesterday I am going to movies.” Even though the tense is wrong and the definite article is missing, you still know what’s meant, especially in context–i.e. you asked the question “What did you do yesterday?”)

Memrise also allows you to make “mems” for your words to help you remember them better. (You can also uses mems created by others if you’re feeling short on creativity.) Adding a visual image to something you are trying to memorize is a classic memorization technique. (Look up memory or mind palaces.) tumblr_m4u7m5Fzpe1qjdni4o1_1280

Personally, I am still getting a lot of mileage out of Cartoon Hebrew which turns the letters into pictures that helps you remember what sound the letter makes; when you see that a particular letter looks like a tub, you don’t forget that it makes the “t” sound.

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I’ve made a mem that associates the Hebrew word Chai with its meaning, alive.

Like Duolingo, Memrise uses spaced repetition to help you retain words. When you make no mistakes, words come up for review less often. The more mistakes you make, though, the more frequently you see the words in review.

The other benefit to Memrise is the one that applies to me: it’s simpler. Rather than trying to figure out several words at a time, I’m only presented with one at a time. And, even better that, Memrise has multiple courses–one of which specifically teaches Biblical Hebrew words in traditional script with vowels. That means I can actually read words without guessing what vowels they should have. And after a couple of days of working with just it, I feel that I’m walking away from it actually knowing some words–both knowing how to pronounce them and what they mean. The frustration level is down and the excitement level is back up.

And, oddly enough, after working with just Memrise for a few days, I went back to redo my Duolingo lessons and made it through them with the same rate of success that I expect from a Spanish course. Some of this may just be from practicing my letters so I’m more confident with what they sound like (even if I only get the see the consonants), but a lot of it is probably down to just practicing one word at a time and pairing the harder ones with mems so they stick in my mind better. This is easy to do because there is a Duolingo companion course at Memrise. I have found that I learn better if I start with the flashcards (and mems) on Memrise, then switch to Duolingo to tackle using them in sentences.

If you want personalized flashcards to help you learn, download Anki. Anki 1.0 was just a simple flashcard system that ran on spaced repetition. But it’s my understanding that the newest incarnation allows pictures and even sound, so you can make mems, attach pronunciation recordings, etc.

 

Internetz!

After 7 long months without any form of internet in our house whatsoever . . .

Desert

. . . and without any access to Facebook . . .

desert-island-ads

. . . the cable achievement has, at last, been unlocked! We have internet!

Rainbows

 

And now . . .

READ ALL THE FACEBOOK POSTS!

WATCH ALL THE YOUTUBE VIDEOS!

PLAY ALL THE GAMES!

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The dog’s going to have to throw her own ball and the cats will have to scratch each others’ butts; tonight is internet night!

 

Duolingo

A few months ago, I found out about a wildly popular free language-learning website, Duolingo. It works on the principal of what you might call “natural” learning, which is to just start learning words without any emphasis on grammar or spelling, the way a baby starts picking up words and simple phrases (although it will correct those things for you). Duolingo is crowd-sourced, too, with the lessons written by a selected group of native-speaking volunteers and corrections or additions coming from suggestions submitted by the users. This keeps it from being very formal and getting out-of-date; instead, it better tracks how the language is actually spoken by native speakers today—complete with learning modules covering slang.

The recorded audio is also from native speakers, so you don’t have the problem that I had when I went into my second year of Spanish in high school and our very American teacher left and we got a Mexican teacher instead and none of us could understand her at all for the first few weeks until we adapted to her (proper) accent.

Duolingo also has a social-media aspect with forums where you can discuss the language(s) you’re learning or just chat about learning languages, foreign travel, etc. You can also tie it into your Facebook, where it can not only post updates about your progress, but it can allow you to compete with other friends who are also learning languages.

I did some research online and found that studies have actually been done to test Duolingo’s effectiveness and it’s found that people learn as much using it as they do when taking a college language class (and in less time). That’s in addition to the fact that 1) it’s free, and 2) you can move at your own pace. Someone who is committed to learning a language and/or is good at learning it can progress very quickly through the lessons, whereas a person in a regular class is stuck learning at the same speed as everyone else. That could be why more than a few schools are using Duolingo in their classrooms as an aid or supplement to their traditional teaching methods.

Duolingo is set up something like a game with short lessons that can be squeezed into otherwise wasted time, like while standing in line, commuting, waiting on your kids, during a lunch break, etc. (Needless to say, it has a mobile app.) When you complete a module, you get happy music to make you feel proud of your accomplishment. And you can do different things to earn “lingots” which are the site’s currency and allow you to “buy” things like extra modules (modules are chunks of related lessons) or a free pass to skip learning a day. (There are rewards for keeping up a “streak” of daily learning; if you buy a pass, you can skip a day without breaking your streak.)

Memory

My Spanish lessons are in here . . . somewhere. Also, the names and dates of all the presidents. And how to spell Massachusetts and Connecticut. Oh, wait, I got those both right on the first try! Yay memory balls!

I tried Duolingo out using the Spanish course and found that 1) with some light prompting, I was able to remember a surprising amount from my three years of high school courses (that should be a relief for other people who learned a language long ago and think it’s long gone; you probably only need a little refresher to get it fished up from the recesses of your long-term memory), and 2) I found it pretty easy to add new words and phrases. Of course, not every word I learned stuck the first time around. But that’s okay; modules that you have previously completed (they turn gold when they’re finished) will degrade if you don’t keep practicing or if you make mistakes on those words when you encounter them in subsequent lessons. So you will have to go back and repeat part of the module to get it back to gold status.

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I have been a slacker. These are all the modules I’ve completed, but I haven’t kept them up.

 

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I got the Basics 1 module back up to gold. I can bebo leche with the best of them once again!

 

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Here you’re given a written and audible phrase in Spanish to translate into English.

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I got credit for my answer (which, orally, would have been understandable) even though I didn’t spell it correctly. The correction is shown at the bottom. Note the accented letters under the text box that you can use.

Duolingo has a combination of questions; in each lesson you will be asked to translate audio and written text from the subject language into English and also from English into the subject language. There’s also an option to respond verbally in the subject language, but obviously you have to have a microphone to do so, and since a lot of people don’t have access to one, you can turn that option off in your settings so that you never get that kind of question.

The current list of languages offered are:

Spanish
French
German
Italian
Portuguese
Dutch
Swedish
Irish
Russian
Turkish
Esperanto
Ukrainian
Welsh
Vietnamese
Hebrew
Hungarian

Languages that are in development:

Greek
Czech
Swahili
Romanian
Hindi
Indonesian
Klingon
Korean

Duolingo also has resources for people to learn to speak English, but I’m not sure how many languages their website comes in (since obviously I don’t see it from that direction).

I really just worked on the Spanish modules to learn how to use the program and to kill time until Hebrew became available, which is what I’m most interested in learning. Hebrew is now available, but it’s still in beta, so changes may still be forthcoming. One of the things I wish they would do is embed a Hebrew script keyboard on the site. In the Spanish course, you are provided with accented letters on the screen that you can click when you need to insert an é or an ñ  in your response text. The Hebrew course, however, has no on-screen keyboard that you can use for Hebrew characters. (And my keyboard at home and work are both fresh out of Hebrew letters.) I found on the discussion forum the suggestion to use a virtual keyboard. That works and I’m now able to progress through my lessons, but I hope that they will get one embedded right on the page so I don’t have to constantly switch back and forth between the two websites all the time.

Medieval Monday: The Rise of the English Empire

Henry VIII is a young man when he becomes King of England. His father had been a notorious miser and never felt secure on the throne due to his poor claim to it. He gave England peace, but nothing more. Vivacious, handsome, and well-educated, Henry VIII brought the light of the Renaissance to England.

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Catherine of Aragon – Henry marries his brother’s widow—despite the fact that she was 8 years his senior. Catherine had spent years caught in a power struggle between her father and Henry VII and had been neglected and impoverished. When Henry declares he will marry her as soon as he is king, he is seen as a romantic and valiant knight.

Catherine becomes pregnant numerous times, but miscarries often and her one live-born son dies shortly after his christening. Mary is the only child they have that survives infancy and Catherine gives her a new European education with the intention that she will rule in her own right, as her grandmother, Isabella of Spain, did.

Anne Boleyn – Henry and Catherine have a great marriage, although he takes the occasional mistress. When Henry falls for Anne and she refuses him, he loses his senses. When he can’t get Anne, he tries to get rid of Catherine, but she proves just as stubborn and refuses to retire to a nunnery so that he can marry Anne. Anne is a Protestant and she begins to influence Henry. Despite the fact that he once wrote a piece so eloquently in favor of papal supremacy that the Pope declared Henry a “Defender of the Faith,” Henry ultimately rejects the Pope’s authority and places himself at the head of the Church in England. And as such, he grants himself a divorce, marries Anne, and exiles Catherine to a cold, run-down castle.Anne Boleyn

The fiery Anne that so enthralled Henry when he couldn’t have her soon becomes tiresome when he actually has to live with her every day. Anne’s family rise fast with her, generating jealousy at court, and she was already thoroughly hated by the people. She gives Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she loses her second daughter and produces no sons. Soon, a combination of political factions and Anne’s own behavior begin to poison Henry against her. After a serious fall from a horse while jousting—which gives him a leg wound that never heals—Henry becomes more temperamental and tyrannical. Anne and her brother are set up and Henry allows them to be tried for incest and treason. Both are executed.

Jane Seymour – While Anne is falling out of favor, Jane’s star is rising. Quiet and unassuming, she is more like Catherine in temperament than Anne. As soon as Anne is out of the way, Henry marries Jane and in a short time she is pregnant. She gives him a son, Edward, and everything seems to be going well. But a short time later, she dies of a fever (probably from an infection contracted during childbirth).

Anne of CleavesAnne of Cleaves – Anne of Cleaves was an attempt by Henry’s advisors to make a political (rather than love) match for Henry. They, like him, wanted England to be a major European power. Anne, however, ended up coming with little in the way of political status. Furthermore, she inadvertently angered Henry when they first met and he took a set against her, nicknaming her the “Mare of Flanders” for her supposed ugly face and body odor. They were reluctantly married, but his anger with her only increased until he couldn’t stand her any longer. He offered her a divorce, which she (wisely) took. She was given a nice castle and a sufficient pension and was styled as “the king’s sister.” She appeared at court occasionally and kept up a friendly correspondence with both princesses.

Catherine Howard – Catherine Howard was a young teenager when she wed Henry, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Henry was as besotted with her as he had been with Anne (who was a cousin of Catherine’s) and he doted on the vivacious young woman. Unlike her predecessors, Catherine was too young (and perhaps too stupid) to be a decent queen. She certainly wasn’t smart enough to realize how perilous court could be. Like Anne before her, she was denounced as an adulteress by those who resented her family’s rise to power. Unlike Anne, though, the charges against her were probably true. She too was sent to the block.

Katherine Parr – Katherine, a widow, was selected to be Henry’s wife not out of love or a desire for male heirs or even political alliance; she was needed simply to care for the ailing king and perhaps act as a calming influence on a man who was now even more suspicious and distrustful than his father had been. That didn’t work too well, as Katherine found herself in serious trouble with Henry over some rather trivial disagreement. Some quick groveling spared her from what would have probably been her own trip to the block, but she lived in fear of upsetting him again. When he finally died, everyone at court breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Children of Henry VIII

Edward VI was still a child when he became king after his father. He was as intelligent and well-educated as his father, but lacked all of his father’s size and vigor. He expanded his father’s Protestant reforms (which really didn’t go farther than making the king the head of the church and robbing all the monasteries in England; in all other respects, the Church of England looked like the Catholic Church), but other than that, he did little in his few years as king. He died while still a teenager—most likely from tuberculosis.

Just before his death, Edward bastardized both of his sisters and named a cousin, Jane Grey, as his successor. This was done to prevent Mary, a staunch Catholic, from taking the throne. It didn’t work, however; Lady Jane Grey reigned for only nine days before Mary’s forces took the throne by force. Jane Grey was later executed when her parents tried to raise another rebellion against Mary.

BurnHenry’s firstborn daughter, Mary, was fast approaching middle age by the time she took the throne. She married a Spanish cousin—much to everyone’s dismay—and hurriedly tried to conceive an heir. But Philip apparently didn’t care for the much-older Mary and could hardly be enticed to do his husbandly duty. Mary thought that she was pregnant twice, but each “pregnancy” failed to produce a child—or even a miscarriage. Likely both occurrences were a sign that something was wrong with Mary’s reproductive organs. She dies just five years after gaining the throne, most probably from a uterine tumor. But, before she dies, she restores England to the Catholic Church and burns so many Protestants that she is forever dubbed “Bloody Mary.”

Elizabeth is a young woman when she takes the throne and ends up being the most like her father. She is extremely intelligent and well-educated, with all the charm and wit that her mother possessed. She returns England to the Protestant faith and takes it further away from Catholicism in appearance. English Catholics become a source of ongoing danger to her, but she refuses to take any action against most of them, thus ending her sister’s bloody religious purges.

She gets England a toe-hold in North America and with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England begins to become a recognized naval power. Her reign is long and politically stable. Unlike her father’s reign, when backers of the latest queen held the most power, Elizabeth rather adroitly plays one faction against the others, never allowing any one family to have too much power. Her weakness was Robert Dudley (and, later, Robert’s stepson, the Earl of Essex), but even though she showed both men great favor, she refused to marry them, thus denying them the greatest prize of all. In the end, England had but one mistress and no master and she refused, until the very last, to even name an heir. It was only after her death that James VI of Scotland—her closest male relative—was named James I of England and finally united the two countries.

Mysteries of History

I find it interesting that the most popular post on my blog has been Wheelbarrows of Money. It has had just over 9,000 views since it was created. My next-most-popular post, Bathing in the Middle Ages, has nearly 3,500 views, so you can see how overwhelmingly popular Wheelbarrows of Money has been.

Most of my top-ranking posts are history-related, but oddly enough, 1920’s Germany isn’t my historical forte; medieval history is. And the entire reason why that post came into being was because I had mentioned the oft-repeated assertion that people used wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread during the Weimar Republic, and my husband challenged that; he asked me to prove that anyone had ever really used wheelbarrows of cash to buy anything.

3d human with a red question mark

Apparently a lot of other people have also wondered if that’s true, but a summary of search results also points to people being interested in understanding why and how inflation happens and what it’s like when it does happen.

So, I’m opening up the floor to any other historical question people may have–medieval, inflationary, or otherwise. And I’ll even go so far as to extend the invitation to questions–historical or theological–about Christianity/Christians or Judaism/Jews.

Ode to OneNote

OneNote was brought to my attention when we upgraded our MS Office Suite and a department at work created an “eBook” in OneNote that contains all of the information that their department needs to share with the rest of the company. I had never heard of OneNote before this.

I’m not used to being caught unawares like that–I’m pretty well-versed in Microsoft’s full suite of Office products–so I had to immediately check out the eBook and poke around my own copy of the software. Intrigued by what I saw, I got on Lynda.com (we have a subscription at work) and watched a basic overview of how to use it.

Sweet Moses in the bulrushes! Where have you been all my life!?

What is OneNote?

81nia28xsOL._SL1500_So, the concept is basic enough. Imagine a 3-ring binder with divider tabs. You may have multiple binders: one for recipes, one for craft ideas, one for class handouts from school, etc.

If you have a recipe binder, you might have divider tabs for appetizers, meats, vegetables, desserts, drinks, etc., and behind each of those tabs you will have recipes–probably one per page. You may even group those together still further so that all of your chicken recipes are together, all of your beef recipes are in a subsection, and so forth.

Now, take that binder and put it into digital form and you have OneNote.

What Can You Use It For?

Obviously if you keep any kind of notebook–like for school or recipes–it can be converted to OneNote. If you do research for your writing, you can use it for that, too.

I’m currently setting up an eBook to hold all of my medieval research. Too often I find myself remembering a picture with a certain feature in it, but I don’t know the name of the picture (if, indeed, it even has one) and I can’t find it again. Even if I saved a copy to my computer, I might have to open a lot of pictures until I find the one that has the feature that I’m looking for. Plus, there’s no good way to attach a lot of  bibliographic information (name of the picture, what manuscript it came from, what museum it’s in, the website where I found it, etc.) to the picture.

OneNote solves that problem. Now I can put a metric buttload* of medieval pictures in OneNote and organize them and add picture information and other notes. I can even add quotes from books that I know I will use frequently or think that I will need to use in the future.  When I need to put together a research paper, I have all the information I need in one place and it will just be a matter of copying and pasting it into Word and writing the thesis portion.

OneNote 1

Why not use Pinterest?

I like Pinterest and use it, but there comes a point when you have a lot of pictures on it and no way to organize them. It ends up being no different than having a lot of pictures on your computer and you have to slowly scroll through them to pick out all the pictures that contain what you’re looking for (women’s socks, for instance, or images of knives). On OneNote, I can dump all of my sock pictures on one page labeled “Socks & Hosen.” If a picture contains more than one interesting feature, I can paste a copy of it on other pages. And any text I add to the page (describing the picture, for instance) is searchable.

OneNote 2

What can you put into it?

OneNote holds just about every kind of media that you can think of.

At work, I have a lot of .pdf files that I’ve created which are full of information. I wanted to make those files available to other people in the company. So I made an eBook, made pages for each property, and dropped all the applicable files onto each property’s page.

In addition to .pdf files, you can do Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s a file that you can’t put on there. (Of course, if you don’t have the software on your computer to open it, you can’t access it.)

You can also embed information directly on the page. You can simply copy text from a Word document, Excel file, etc. and paste it directly into OneNote. Or you can insert a “File Printout” which will basically turn whatever file you select into a picture and embed it on the page. (This option makes the text uneditable; if you want to edit your text or spreadsheet in OneNote, copy and paste it in.)

Pictures can also be dragged and dropped or copied and pasted into OneNote and resized.

You can set pages to have lines, like notebook paper, or grids, like graph paper. Then you can use the drawing tools to draw freehand or with basic shapes. (This option would be best used on a device that allows you to draw with a pen tool.) So, if you like to draw diagrams, it can accommodate that.

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I haven’t used it, but it also has a feature that allows you to record audio or video live and embed it directly into the page. (Not sure if it just shows up as a file, or if it actually embeds a player directly on the page.) So, if you’re a student and you take your laptop with you to class, you can record the lecture directly into OneNote. And while that’s recording, you can type or draw your notes right on the same page. And, if I remember my Lynda video correctly, OneNote also notices when you make notes and links those notes to the time index on the recording. So, if you click on a section of your notes, it will automatically take you to the portion of the recording that was happening when you made those notes. (Which is obviously the coolest thing ever.)

Why not just use a shared drive to exchange files?

You can do that and you certainly should do that if all you want to do is swap some files back and forth. But if you have files that need explanation or you want to tie one or more files together (e.g. a project that has multiple files that need to be kept together or in a certain order, or files that have tutorials that explain how to use them, etc.), OneNote makes it easy to keep like things together and to add text and other media.

For instance, if you do a lot of brochures for your company, you might have a tab for each geographic region and a page for each location within that region. On each page, you may have a selection of the pictures that you typically use for that location, copyright/licensing information for each picture, and maybe the files of all the previous brochures.

Yes, you could keep all of that information in individual files on a drive on your computer or network, but instead of having to open all the pictures individually, then open a separate file with the copyright info, you can keep it all together on one page in OneNote.

If you are a property manager, you might have a page for each property you have. And on each page you can have one or more pictures of the property, current tenant information, leasing information, tax information, preferred vendors (i.e. electrician, plumber, pest control, etc.), leads for new tenants or interested investors, etc. If your tenants tear the place up, you don’t have to dig through all the files on your computer (because, let’s face it, most people aren’t terribly organized in that regard) to find the pictures you took before they moved in. It will be right there in OneNote for you. You might even have subpages for each tenant with before and after pictures so you can document who was a good tenant and who you won’t let back in on a bet.

And, if you want to make a brochure to showcase your property, you can just drag and drop the bits of content over to Publisher where you can turn it into a polished presentation. But even if you don’t have time (or the skills) for that, you can print part or all of your OneNote eBook or turn it into a .pdf to email to someone as-is.

Drawbacks

OneNote can handle mixed media (e.g. text and a picture and a file all on the same page), but it’s not terribly pretty. You can’t manipulate mixed media to the extent that you can on Publisher or even Word. When you insert a picture or even a file into a text box, the text will be top and bottom only; there is no way to make the text flow around the picture as you are accustomed to seeing on blogs or in magazines. You can justify the picture left, center, or right, but that’s it. In order to make my pages pretty, I put the picture on the page by itself and then use one or more text boxes beside and under it to make my text appear to flow around it. (In other words, I do manually what it should do automatically.)

Also, the only thing you can do to a picture is resize it. You can’t even crop it in OneNote, much less flip it, brighten or darken it or change the hue. If you have a picture that needs some basic photo editing like that, you should do it in Windows Live Photo Gallery (or equivalent), or just paste the picture into a blank Word document, adjust it, then copy it again and paste it into OneNote.

You Mentioned Sharing . . .

If you put OneNote on a shared network drive or on a cloud drive (personally, I use Dropbox; at work, we use Microsoft’s cloud), you can share it with anyone who also has access to that drive.

Here’s the way it works:

You build a OneNote eBook on your computer and tell it to save to your cloud drive. (And once you’ve told it where to save, it will save automatically from there on out. No having to remember to save frequently, no losing your info if your computer crashes on you in the middle of something.) But, in reality, OneNote actually saves a copy on your computer and on your cloud drive. Which means you can continue to work in OneNote, even if you aren’t currently connected to your drive (think working on a laptop when you don’t have wi-fi access to the cloud).

Let’s say you have a partner that you’re collaborating with. (In my case, my medieval research eBook may end up being a joint effort between me and my husband, with both of us working on it from our personal computers and the end result saved on my cloud drive.) Your partner has access to your cloud and also has OneNote on his computer. All you have to do is go into OneNote and “share” it with him. OneNote will send that person an email with a link to the eBook that allows him to open it. When he opens it for the first time, it will download from the cloud onto his computer. He can then work on it offline, too. Whenever either of you reconnect to the cloud, OneNote will automatically sync the working copies with the master copy on the cloud. If you both make changes at the same time while offline and then sync, OneNote will attempt to merge the different changes or, worst case scenario, it will make duplicate tabs or pages–one containing each person’s changes–and you can manually merge the information.

It also has a “track changes” type of feature that shows you who changed the eBook since you last looked at it and when, which is really handy if you have multiple people collaborating and you want to keep up with what’s changing without reading all the material every time.

But what if I don’t want people to be able to edit it?

When you share your eBook with people, it will have an option to make them an editor (default) or you can change it so they have view only rights. As many people as you want (within reason, obviously) can edit and as many as you want can view it. For our eBook at work, there are only three people who can edit it, but several hundred who can view it.

And even though the view-only people can’t edit the book, they can still track changes and see what’s been added since they last accessed it and who made those changes and when.

Of course, you can change the editing/viewing rights of anyone later.

Also, you can password protect sections (tabs) so that only the people with the password can access that area.

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Here’s what you see if you click on a password protected tab.

What About Mobile Applications?

OneNote does have an app that allows you to use it from a phone or tablet. I wouldn’t suggest trying to update or alter it from a phone, because you’re just not going to be able to work on such a small screen, but it will allow you to access it if you need to refer to it.

I don’t have a smartphone, so I haven’t personally tried using it, but a co-worker has used our eBook on her phone. Her only complaint is that it doesn’t want to automatically sync; she has to do it manually every time she wants to look at it to make sure that she’s seeing the latest version. But other than that, she has no problems using it.

So How Expensive Is It?

If you already have the latest version of MS Office (2013), you should already have OneNote on your computer. Just go to your Start button, open the list of programs, and open the MS Office 2013 file to see what programs you have installed. If you don’t see it there, it could be that someone left it out of the original Office installation; check your Office CD to see if installing it is an option.

For the rest of you . . . it’s free to download. There is one catch (of course): you must have Windows 7 or newer; it will not download on a Vista machine. (Ax me how I know.)

Free OneNote download!

So, what are you waiting for? Get a copy and start organizing your stuff!

* A metric buttload is 108 litres. Just so you know.

New Banner

Since I’ve decided that I’m going to focus a bit more on medieval stuff here (oddly enough, my most popular posts are about history), I decided that I needed to tweak my banner a little. The blog still encompasses vampires and potpourri (i.e. miscellaneous stuff), but the “ladies” part is specifically medieval ladies. So I traded out my generic Victorian woman for a Victorian portrait of Philippa of Hainault.

I’m going to have a Medieval Monday for you next week! And I just started making myself a chemise, which I will be working on in the upcoming weeks. As soon as it’s done, I’ll post pictures showing how I made it.