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Digital Tools Review


March 24, 2015 by jeldredge1

For my digital tools review, I chose Zotero, Voxcribe CC, ImageMagick, and Art Studio.    I honestly use IE as my web browser, and after attending the Zotero Intro in the library lab, I was not looking forward to having to use it. I did eventually download Firefox to be able to use it, and to be able to try the automatic citation feature in Word. I don’t really love the bottom split screen layout of Zotero, it makes my browsing seem a little cramped. I did feel like there was a little of a learning curve; I’m used to saving research webpages in my favorites, and saving articles and PDFs in either DropBox, which I like the shared folders aspect in order to collaborate with others, and my favorite PDF app on my iPad, GoodNotes, which allows users to create categories that organize PDFs in a visual format, and allow easy notation and manipulation of the PDFs. I admit though, that the capture of metadata in a set form is helpful, and I did like and will use the citation plug-in for Windows. (I hate writing bibliographies after already sweating out pape r writing). Again, I felt that there was a bit of a learning curve, but the videos and pages that Zotero contains as web tutorials arecomprehensive (if maybe a bit tedious). I can definitely see where these applications would be a lifesaver for writing theses or dissertations. It is fun to populate your library, and I haven’t fully copied everything over from my other iPad apps. I saw that the Dirt Directory had a tool that would capture barcodes off books and add the data to Zotero automatically, but that it was no longer supported. This would be a nice tool to create a list of all the books I have, and ones I’d like to have. I didn’t use any of the collaborative tools, since I still feel like a newbie at Zotero, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I was a reluctant user of Zotero, but I will use it, to cite works in Word, and to better organize my saved data.
I wanted to look at a transcription tool, since I plan to use a snippet of an oral history I took with Oakland’s Executive Director on our BeltLine exhibit. Any one who has taken Dr. Kuhn’s Oral History class, or who has had to transcribe audio knows how tedious it can be. I figured that any transcription tools won’t get it right 100% of the time, but if it gets even half of the wording right, that can be a big time saver. The Dirt Directory lists many transcription tools, but I decided to try Voxcribe CC as it lauds itself as “the most accurate speaker-independent and topic-independent desktop speech recognition technology.” Voxcribe CC offers a quick, 2 minute video tutorial to introduce users to the product, and it looked great. The software runs your video on the left side of the screen, and it creates subtitles automatically with time stamping, and you can go ahead and edit the subtitles while they are still generating. At the bottom of the screen, a wavelength output of the audio scrolls, which Voxcribe says shows each line of subtitles. The text generated did have errors, for instance, the software wrote ‘center’ instead of ‘senator’ , but they do advertise a spell-check feature of their product. Unfortunately, it isn’t really free. I checked, and the first 60 mins. of a transcription (meaning the first 60 minutes that you want to transcribe) are free, but you have to buy time of video or audio file after that. Ten dollars gets you another 60 minutes of file to transcribe. Still, I had about an hour of audio from my interview, so I figured I would try it out and see if it would be worth the costs in the future. Voxcribe CC lists on its download page that the download is free, then you have to create an account with them. The program needs 64 Bit Windows and at least 4GB Ram memory, and also needs an Internet connection. I hit the download, and it started my download wizard, but the download listed over two hours needed to complete! This freaked me out, since I just have my laptop, I was really worried that this program would take up too much RAM for such a limited application. I know I won’t use it that much. I stopped the download. Perhaps I could find a way to load it and run it on someone’s desktop? I haven’t asked anyone yet. Verdict: seems like a really helpful tool that probably would help cut down on transcription time, but users would still need to carefully proofread the text and definitely make corrections. Still, for social scientists, transcription is a time heavy task, but hopefully this speech recognition technology will become cheaper (and hopefully free) and hopefully it will become a web- based application that doesn’t require such a heavy commitment to precious memory space on PC’s and laptops. I would definitely use it then, or even if it was a tablet app. The other transcription tools on Dirt Directory are mostly collaborative transcription tools, or tools that help you slow down and handle your audio or video files to make transcription easier. But it seems like there isn’t a cheap transcription magic bullet out on the market yet for us poor social scientists.
For my BeltLine exhibit, I also knew that I would need to manipulate pictures and other digital images, so I looked for a tool on the Dirt Directory that would help with that. I reviewed the image tools there, but honestly, I already have an image tool that I use all the time, and nothing else seemed to compare to my needs. looked the most promising, but you have to download source code to use it for iOS, and I don’t feel tech savvy enough to do that. It promotes itself as a suite of software that can “create, edit, compose, or convert Bitmap images. Which might mean users will have to first convert their images to Bitmap form. It does have a tool to animate images into GIF files and the like, so it might be worth downloading the code onto my laptop rather than buying a software package like Adobe. Yes, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are great, but I like a more user friendly and portable software. I use my iPad to take most of my pictures, and to post manipulated images, so I downloaded Art Studio from the App Store months ago. Art Studio V.5.91 is a great app to easily create and manipulate images without having to learn a lot of steps like you do with Photoshop, and other large desktop programs like it. I can easily import an image from my photos and begin editing it. The basic page in Art Studio shows the image in the center, with a vertical brushes tab on the left and a vertical color swatch tab on the right. The brushes are listed by pics, and tapping on one will bring up a tab where you can manipulate each brush application in minute detail: by width, by soft or hard edge, by transparency, heaviness, etc. you can also purchase additional brushes, but I have never felt the need, I mostly use the paint brush and pencil applications and specify them as needed. The color swatch tab has a dozen or so basic colors, but you can tap on one and adjust it minutely. It also has an easy color match tool; if you hold your finger on your image, it will bring up a crosshair that you can drag to the color you want. When you release it, the top color swatch will now contain your chosen color. Art Studio allows you to easily add layers to your image that you can later merge on to your main image. Text is added as a separate image, and you just drag an automatic text box where you want it, and you can then change the font, size, color, transparency and orientation of your image. The top bar of the app contains window drop down menus to save or open new files, manipulate layers, add pre-set filters, and further transform your image. Your image is easily moveable with your fingers. I love to zoom in to pixel level and make fine changes. I used it once to darken and clean up the lettering on a tombstone to be used in a leaflet for Oakland Cemetery. I also used the transparency tool to create my GIF images that fade from the HABS photos of the cemetery to the modern photo. The transparency filter shows you an exact percentage, and I just saved a separate file for each level of transparency. The finished images are saved in a gallery, and you can export them as a JPEG, PNG, or PSD. I usually export the files in an email, or you can export to photos or iCloud. The only issues I have encountered are with the need to transfer PDF’s into images, which can be done through many web tools available, and importing large files. The app seems to have regular updates to address issues like crashes from big files, and I have always been able to open all my files by just repeatedly trying to open them- eventually it works.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best luck in the tools that I picked, but the Dirt Directory has a lot more tools I’d like to look at, especially ones concerning GIS applications, as I plan on achieving the GIS certificate in the Geosciences department next year. I would definitely recommend students take a look at the Dirt Directory for helpful digital tools.


  1. Adina Langer says:


    I appreciate your comparison between ImageMagick and Art Studio. Is Art Studio a free application? Your critique of Voxscribe is cogent. It’s tough to commit to devoting a large amount of computer RAM to a single program when we live in such a mobile-oriented society.

    • jeldredge1 says:

      ArtStudio Lite is free, but the regular ArtStudio is only $5, and well worth it to me. It has in app purchase options for more brush types, but I think what it already comes with is plenty sufficient. Unless maybe you’re trying to create an airbrush look magazine cover or something like that.

  2. nbrown24 says:

    As I’ve read a couple of these reviews (yours included), it made me glad to know that I was not the only person who had yet to embrace some these digital tools. It seems that I, like you, see the benefit of the program for its organizational capabilities. I haven’t encountered the issue you did with the split screen, but I use Safari as my browser and perhaps it is different? It is also interested to hear from someone who used the tutorial videos that Zotero has, and which based on your assessment seem to be overwrought. You also reviewed a tool I’ve never used, Voxscribe. Based on your explanation of what it does I was excited to hear your opinion on the program. I don’t blame you for not finishing the download, as I honestly wouldn’t have waited as long as you did before giving up!

    • jeldredge1 says:

      I used Zotero first in Internet Explorer, and then tried Chrome and finally downloaded Firefox since that’s the only way it said it would work with the automatic downloads in Word for citations. Didn’t try Chrome though! But I’m loathe to have to use/keep up with more than 1 browser.

  3. Alexandra Troxell says:

    Coming from an art background, it can be easy for me to forget that Adobe image editing software is not always user friendly. It seems like the key to good digital tools is not necessarily what the tool can do, but how accessible it is to a new user. And now how mobile the tool is- applications that can exist on mobile and even multiple devices are arguably more accessible than software that takes up to much space and takes too long to download.

    • jeldredge1 says:

      Yeah, I had an old version of Adobe many desktops ago, and I used it a little, but I never studied the massive tutorial book that came with it. I too have an art background (in a way. It’s literally in my DNA) so I’m also a little wary of getting addicted to another awesome time suck right now. I bet I’d come up with some really creative but ultimately pointless graphic projects. I already have so many unfinished art and craft projects around (and even outside) my house it’s crazy.

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