Monday, September 25, 2006

That's a tip, kids - don't write it down

Filed under "Education."

"I hate this teacher," muttered the person sitting next to me, "he writes too fast!" I glanced over to see that my classmate (who also happened to be a roommate) was indeed furiously reproducing everything that the professor wrote on the board. I leaned over and asked him if he was at least following the lecture. "How can I," he replied, "when it's all I can do just to keep up?"

This was not a class on humanities, or history, or government. This was general college chemistry. My friend was hitting a wall that I see a lot of my classmates hitting in technical classes; that is, that it's very hard to take notes. In these circumstances, I follow three guidelines that help a lot (not that they'll work for everybody, but they should certainly be better than nothing).

Guideline #1: don't take notes. Listen to what the professor is saying, understand the concepts he's conveying. If you try to write it all down, you'll just lose the thread of the discussion. In technical classes, everything you need to know is in the text. And, you'll have homework that you have to do anyway before you fully grasp what's going on. So don't sweat it; don't take notes.

There's more to it, though, because sometimes it can be beneficial to take some notes. That brings us to Guideline #2: never write down anything you don't understand. If you don't understand it when the teacher says it (or writes it on the board), just putting it on paper is not going to help. It will actually hurt your chances of understanding other things, since your attention will be distracted by writing.

Guideline #3 is a corollary to #2, and that is: don't copy. Never write anything down that's not in your own words. You'll find that the act of translating concepts for transcription cements your understanding. It also helps ensure your notes are more concise (so you spend less time writing). And, if you follow Guideline 3, you'll automatically follow #2 as well.

I should emphasize again that this only works in technical classes, where the aim is to communicate difficult concepts more than facts. If you find yourself stuck in a history class, then by all means bring a laptop and pound away.

So, in summary:
  1. Don't take notes
  2. If you must, then write down only what you understand
  3. Don't just transcribe; translate instead.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


In my last post, I heaped praise upon FlexTime. I was going to anyway, but the main reason I did it right now is because I wanted to post about this thing I've written. I (unimaginatively) call it FlexLog. It's a collection of AppleScript scripts which log your usage of FlexTime. So, now I can keep a record of when I've done stretches and how long I've spent on them, which information is useful to me in managing my time.

Heck, sometimes it's just interesting to know these things. So, I offer it to you for download, for free. I'm calling it a beta release, because it hasn't received any testing beyond just on my local machine, and there may well be bugs. However, as of now I know of no issues with it. If you find one, do please let me know.

It uses an Excel spreadsheet to keep the log, so you'll need Excel, too.

Download FlexLog Beta 1


File this under "Good stuff you may not have heard of."

FlexTime is a general-purpose timer for Mac OS X. Who needs a timer? I didn't think I did either until I found this.

I was once given a stretch routine by a chiropractor to help my back and neck. It really does help, but it's hard to stay dedicated and do it with frequency. Also, each stretch calls for 20 seconds, and it can be hard to count out the time on my own.

Enter FlexTime, nearly a year later. I set up a routine that repeats automatically, with 5 seconds to transition between stretches and 20 to hold them. At the beginning of each cue, my computer beeps at me.

It works great as a game timer, too. I once used it to time a game of Rummikub. In that game, everyone is allowed only 2 minutes per turn. I set flextime up to speak text at 30-second intervals, reminding people of how much time they had left. It was great.

But that's not all you can do with FlexTime. You can tie scripts to it, and use it to control other applications. You can bind remote controls to it to control it remotely. You can customize the behavior of cues through scripting. And on and on.

I'm not affiliated with Red Sweater Software (the company that makes it), I just like the program. So go give it a try, eh?

Thank You

In keeping with my previous post, I'll post for you an Ambigram. It spells "Thank you" in a loop. It also exhibits off-center rotational symmetry, so you can read "Thank you" no matter which direction you read around the circle.


You may not have heard of the term. An Ambigram is a letterform that exhibits some form of symmetry, be it rotational, reflectional, etc. There are some that occur naturally (such as MOM - turn it upside-down, and it becomes WOW), but most you have to twist and shape until the cooperate. I've been making them on and off for several years, and I intend to post several to this blog. Fair warning.

I credit Scott Kim with getting me started on these things (even though he has no idea what he's done. :). His book, Inversions, is a treasure trove and a wonder. Thoroughly worth the $10 it cost me to buy a copy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Don't Eat the Blog

"Me don't know art, but me know what me like: FOOD!"
-Cookie Monster

Every blog has to start somewhere, with a first post. Since you're reading, let me tell you why I wanted a blog, and what I plan to do with it.

I've resisted blogging for years now. For one, I'm a Chemical Engineering student with two jobs, and I don't need the additional drain on my time. Still, I find myself wanting to share things with the world at large; this might be hubris, but I'll let the world decide if it's interested in what I have to say.

I promise not to talk about my cat. For one thing, I don't have one--I'm allergic, and I don't really like them anyway. I will only post here if I genuinely think that what I have to say will be interesting, useful, or entertaining to people other than myself.

I plan to blog about Energy, Chemistry, Education, Ambigrams, Computers and Programming, Web Development, Religion, and more. (See, I said "and more," so when I post on random stuff you can't be all like, "Hey, what the heck!")

This party's just getting started...