Tools and Software

Let’s face it, getting an university education is like going into a warzone laced up with bootcamp. Teachers are barking up like drill sergeants, shooting information left and right and there is no time to rest, if you are not lecturing you have to be reading, if you are not reading you have to be writing because goddamn week has seven days and a goddamn day has only twenty four hours. Not to mention you are spending at least ten of those babies in sleeping, shitting, showering and eating.

And that was when I was a full time student. Now as a working man I have less of those. Which makes the brute force approach obsolete. Brute force approach you ask? Remember the days and nights you spent in the library? “Studying” while checking that chick out studying in German literature. No I am not sneakily watching you, you pervert. It’s just that I’ve been there done that wore that filthy t-shirt. That is the brute force approach, throw in enough hours with minimal attention to get a passing grade.I have neither a library to study nor that much of a time to spend. Luckily this day and age offers more tools to make studying more effective and, dare I say, fun!

This is not a be-all-end-all of lists. This is what I use while studying and even though it works for me, they might not work for you. YMMV, Caveat Emptor! Etc etc.

Evernote by Evernote

Evernote is a lifesaver. I especially like its shoot-a-document feature on its android app. I have a shitty, but improving!, handwriting and its artificial intelligence even recognizes my cursive. Which makes searching a breeze. Also if you have a keyboard you can easily take digital notes in it on the lecture too. Hell, if I was studying philosophy again I’d arm myself with a tablet with a keyboard attachment and an evernote account and go bonkers and never miss anything.

Scrivener by Literature and Latte

Scrivener is a writer’s toolbox in one application. I especially like its approach to a text. Usual word processing applications like Word sees it as a monolithic entity. This is good if you plan to write one or two page documents but if you are going to write a structured document which has a thesis to defend you often need to read and revise parts of your text with the increased literature reading. Well, Scrivener makes you able to do just that. It sees a document consists from small scrivlets and compiles a macrodocument from those little documents. Therefore it gives you the ability to plan your writing and focus your attention to one part of the article. If you need to see, like if several parts of your article support each other and any change in one needs a change in the other parts it gives you the ability to do so. Add the ability to snapshot the document’s parts which makes any change reversible and output to all major formats including docx and pdf I quickly find it invaluable in any writing assignment big or small.

It also saves your writings in plain text format so if you decide not to use scrivener your data is available without resorting to esoteric conversion.

Scapple by Literature and Latte

Scapple is Scrivener’s sibling application. Roughly said, it is a mindmap application but gives you more freedom to construct your maps. Usually a mindmap software starts you with a central topic and lets you branch out from that center, well Scapple lets you start from anywhere and branch to anywhere. Only, possible, downside to this program is its visual simplicity but I find its austerity a boon.

Calibre by Kovid Goyal

Calibre is an e-book library software. Let’s face it, in our digital age most of the documents we find and the research we do is from the internet. This software makes the organization of articles very easy. In addition to that with the extension “Epub merge” you can compile those articles into an e-book and carry it with you everywhere. You can take notes, convert the articles to any ebook format, sadly with the exception of pdf. I have found that if you give a pdf source and convert it to any format it does a poor job of it. Also if you use dropbox with it you have a cloud library which you can access from anywhere with internet connection.

Google Calendar by Google

Sadly I haven’t been able to use a calendar application to its full effect in any time. But if you have limited time to study and process information you have gathered, managing your time becomes equally important as managing your data. In the coming semester I plan to use Google Calendar to this effect. I have heard that if you use pomodoro system with it and divide your time in 25 minute chunks it makes retaining information more probable. Also because the remote education has no physical classes it falls to you to create your own time to study and “go to lecture”. Google’s calendar app makes this dividing of time quite easy and it has reminders and repeatable activities. I think those features make it essential to any cyber student of our contemporary times.

Kindle Paperwhite by Amazon

You can put any e-ink reader as a substitute here. I chose Kindle because I am already a customer of amazon and quite happy with their service. Only drawback I can state is it doesn’t support epub format and therefore you have to convert your books to its supported file formats azw3 or mobi. Calibre does this conversion quite good.

I cannot state this enough, I have tried, and failed, to read books from laptops and monitors and no matter how good it is, the reading activity creates a strain on your eyes. So if you are going to read electronic books you have to get an e-ink reader. No tablets, no pcs, no laptops. It does one job only and it does a fantastic job of it. You mark your passages and kindle saves those passages into a file outside of the book with the required annotations. You only take the my_clippings file and you can process the underlined passages you made. I am sure other ebook readers have similar features and you need to use this to make your learning as effective as possible.

Hp Stream 13 by HP

This needs some explaining, in an age where overpowered computers are a dime a dozen why did I choose this underdog. Because it is an underdog! Studies show that our attention tends to scatter whenever we sit to our computer. Social media this, google that, watch this and you’ll study time will be diminished in focus, you spend hours in front of the machine with procrastination. This machine lets me focus because it CAN’T do anything else but basic word processing. Hence work quality increases by this very limitation. At least this is my experience.

Dropbox by Dropbox

Although I am writing this application last, this doesn’t mean it isn’t that important. Au contrarié this synchronization application have saved many theses from the data destruction you will endure in your thesis writing at some point. There are alternatives to it like Google Drive and Microsoft’s Onedrive but I am an old customer of Dropbox and have quite got used to its way of synchronizing setup. It creates a folder in your harddisk and whatever you put there goes to your dropbox cloud folder. It is easy to setup, easy to use and works quite transparent. When you decide to format your computer or the worst possibility lose it, your data will be safe. This makes it mission critical.

These are my tools while setting up my study workbench. I am aware that a component is missing, a reference software which makes footnoting and giving references in MLA or APA style a breeze but I haven’t used them so far and if I use any of those I will update this list.

Sway by Microsoft

Sway is an interesting presentation app. At first I thought it was a powerpoint alternative. But it turns out that sway is about storytelling and conveying the message you want to deliver. All you have to do is notate the text and the pictures you want your readers to focus on. In texts you are doing this with the usual bold and italics but in pictures you select focus points to make sway understand which part of the picture you want to show primarily. With that when sway encounters small resolutions, or even bigger resolutions than you have, it doesn’t crop the important parts of the picture. I was especially blown away with the “Comparison” card. With it you select two pictures and Sway shows it with a slider in the middle. When the user slides the divider to left and right he sees the previous and after pictures. Quite useful for showing two statistical data in time I think. It doesn’t end there, it has many cool tools to show pictures, grid, postcard stacks, single ones… The most important thing is you are noting what is important and Sway complies with your requests and does the layout itself. When you are done you can share it with an embed code, or a direct link to your sway. I have tried this on this site in a draft post and saw that it works wonderfully. All you have to do is paste the embed code in the “text” part of your post. I think I will be providing some of the content via this way in the future.