mildred pierce zine

Dispatch from a THATCamp
November 22, 2010, 5:05 pm
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Over the weekend I went to a really terrific ‘unconference’ called THATCamp. It’s national with local outposts; THATCamp Chicago was held at Northwestern University.

What’s an unconference? Find out more at THATCamp’s website linked above. What was unusual and radical about this event, based on my previous experiences of academic conferences, was that the sessions were driven by participant interest, and we generated and voted on each one while at the conference. The sessions were all collaborative and designed for infosharing as opposed to top-down knowledge distribution. There were also bootcamps provided on Omeka, WordPress hacking, Git, and 3D modeling.

I’ll admit to having felt kinda out of my league, a writer/lit scholar still clinging to the page amidst all these digital humanists, but I managed myself fine and kept up for the most part except during some nerding out on CSS. I learned a lot, and enthusiastically recommend THATCamp to anyone who wants to learn about and discuss digital approaches to research, scholarship, data presentation, pedagogy; etc; or acquire more technological wizardry.

My purpose in this post is to document a list some of the tools and resources I learned about, for the sake of infosharing and for the sake of – I hope you’ll tell me what else I and others should know about in a comment to this post.

Free or mostly free online tools:

  • Pixlr – free open source online photo editor – comes highly recommended as a free alternative to photoshop.
  • JayCut – free open source online video editor – recommended as free alternative to finalcut
  • Inkscape – free open source vector graphics editor – alternative to illustrator, although no one could really vouch for how easy it is to use
  • Prezi – online presentation tool that’s increasingly used as an alternative to PowerPoint
  • Google SketchUp – free basic 3D modeling tool
  • Protovis – free open source data visualization tool
  • Animoto – can make video from images (free up to 30 seconds)
  • ArtRage – (30-day free trial) digital artmaking that is very convincingly (i.e., it looks like real paint/other media) rendered
  • Zotero – Firefox add-on; AWESOME research and citation management tool
  • VisualCV – free hosting site for online resumes/CVs/portfolios

Free photos/clip art/fonts:

  • morgueFile – free license; no attribution required
  • stock.xchng – not sure about licensing
  • – all public domain/creative commons
  • dafont – possibly the best collection of mostly free (& some licensed) fonts online; and you can input/preview your text before downloading.


  • Lynda – this is a fantastic database, its pockets deep with software/programming tutorials; I have taught myself Flash and Illustrator using Lynda, and can’t recommend it enough. Many institutions have subscriptions (UIC students/faculty can access Lynda free through the library website), but it’s not unaffordable for individuals (for $25, you get access to 900 online courses for a full month).

(The THATCamp Chi blog has notes on some of the other sessions, with additional tools/notes on gaming and geo tools, among other things.)

So what else should I and others know about? What tricks and tools you got up them sleeves? We’re laying out Mildred Pierce 4 this very second…which is why all this stuff is timely and right.