Thursday, 18 December 2014

Are Netbooks still a thing ?

A couple of days ago, I went over the road to a coffee shop for an offline discussion with a colleague. We were in search of some space where we could hide in plain sight to discuss some issues relating to a new project.

We chose the coffee shop next to Arts faculty, where you are as likely to find people discussing Aristophanes as their blocked sinks.

The atmosphere is reasonably hardcore and quite a few people had computing devices on the table. The students have long since departed for the summer taking their shiny iPads and Macbooks with them, so we can say that the devices on desks represented devices used by working academics and researchers.

As is my wont, I had a look around me while waiting to order to see what people were using.

There was, of course, the usual sprinkling of iPads and high end Android tablets, but strangely not that many MacBooks, with the MacBooks being outnumbered by Windows notebooks, of which none looked to be SSD based ultrabooks.

What there was though, was three people sat at separate tables using netbooks. Unfortunately I couldn’t sensibly (or politely) rubber neck to see what operating system was in use so I’ll assume windows.

Using a netbook makes some sense for someone that deals with words - the keyboards on a lot of netbooks were quite nice to type on, and if you have a windows desktop in your study, you can of course write your notes straght to dropbox, and then work on them later on your full size machine, yet have something reasonably lightweight with reasonable battery life to take to the library - as well as being next to the Arts building, the coffee shop is also opposite the Asian studies library - and being early summer people are probably trying to get on with their research.

Still it remains interesting that three or four years after netbooks dropped off the market they’re still in serious use …

Written with StackEdit.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

handwriting, keyboards and effective notetaking

This morning I tweeted a link to a Guardian weekly article on the merits of handwriting versus keyboards for writing. Coincidentally I’ve just bought myself a fountain pen - my first for what must be close to forty years.

The pen is nothing special, just a twelve dollar Lamy with a steel nib, but it writes nicely on good quality paper, and more importantly my handwriting approaches legibility.

In the previous forty years I’ve used a mixture of quality rollerball pens such as Uniball and Edding fineline felt tips which have allowed me to handwrite - scribble really - notes quickly, but at the expense of legibility. I’ve never got on with cheap ball points or cheap paper - it’s why I still use a pencil for scratchpad work.

I’ve tried other things - handwriting recognition on a palm pilot was a notable failure of the early naughties, although the device was in many other ways a superb tool - so much so that I bought an external keyboard and used it for many years to take notes in meetings and seminars. I still have my old palm pilot, keyboard and docking cradle, and I used to promise myself that someday I would get jPilot configured on one of my linux machines and start using my Palmpilot again.

Realistically of course, that ship has sailed.

I have however continued to experiment. One of the most successful experiments was to use a no name Android tablet with a keyboard as a notetaker.

Type the notes in a semi structured form using a tool such a TextEdit, and email them to myself, clean them up and during the cleanup process reformat them as markdown (or wiki style syntax for wikidot), generate a pdf and put them straight into evernote, or indeed circulate the pdf as meeting minutes.

Very powerful, but flawed. Battery life was one issue, startup time was another, as was network dependence. All of them could be lived with and worked with.

I also found the seven inch keyboard a little tight for typing, hence my resurrecting my old Eee seven inch notebook. Doing this addressed the keyboard issue, and using Retext as a native markdown editor sped up matters but in fact I’ve usually ended up typing sets of oneline notes into abiword and converting them with pandoc to markdown or saving direct as a pdf to evernote.

But in all of this I’ve found a problem. Notetaking at best is an active exercise where you listen to what is being said, write down interesting things, draw arrows, reflect a little, write down questions and thoughts, link blobs together.

What I end up with is more a sort of mindmap. Especially when rather than a structured presentation it’s an ad hoc ‘draw on the wall’ session, or indeed a coffeeshop discussion.

Hence the fountain pen. Legible notes in a note book, scan them, send them to evernote, add comments, photographs of a whiteboard, all these things.

At the same time there’s definitely a role for taking notes straight into a computing device of some sort, especially in well structured seminars and presos. I guess my problem is that I havn’t yet found my ideal device - something fast enough, light enough and with decent enough battery life.

Until then it’s probably my old eee, or no name tablet, with a pen and notebook as backup …

Written with StackEdit.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

2014 - what worked

In previous years I’ve done a ‘what worked’ post about this time.

I’m not doing one this year, for the simple reason that when I look back at the 2013 post, not much has changed.

To be sure, I’ve taken to using ReText for writing notes and the resurrected ookygoo as a writing machine, but truly not much has changed.

We have a better, more stable network connection and using the TP-Link box to allow failover to 3G when the adsl service goes away has been one of my better ideas, as has investing in a second portable 3G router for travel.

The real change this year has been in terms of media consumption - it’s the first year I have bought no music CD’s whatsoever - even managing to satisfy my love of Renaissance and early Baroque through downloads alone, and the first year that I have bought more ebooks than printed books. In fact I’d say that I have bought almost no new physical books - in fact I’d say two, and they were only bought as paperbacks because of the Amazon/Hachette spat, and happened to be on special.

I’ve still bought some second hand out of print books in dead tree format, but with the increases in the availability of digitised texts, even that’s been decreasing - I actually can see a time coming, say in five years time, when I might only buy ebooks …

Written with StackEdit.