Airport of Mind

— Thoughts going through my personal check-in —

Turning notes into beautiful presentations


Deckset for Mac really looks like a promising app that promises to make up beautiful looking presentations just from your notes written in Markdown (which is a kind of formal standard how to make notes or jote down text on the internet, see here for more). Though this doesn’t sound to be such a huge thing, yet let’s face it: most of the presentations you’ll see simply look horrible. Thus there is certainly a market niche for the startup from Berlin who has developed Deckset. Even if the app doesn’t come with such fancy and complex features like those in PowerPoint (if there is anything fancy about PP …) and Keynote, it still should work for most potential users. See MacStories to read a full review about it.

How to never forget a mail using Apple Mail.app


This link is one I wanted to share for a long time. Anyone using a Mac has stumbled across Apple’s preinstalled Mail.app and the vast majority will probably rely on it for their daily email communication. Though it is overall a solid app it easily can be supercharged to fit your specific needs, thanks to features likes “Smart Mailboxes” and so on.

After having read this linked article I rebuilt Mail.app according to my needs with the help of “Smart Mailboxes”, Flags and custom keyboard shortcuts. Since that time there has been no message which slipped my mind and I can’t imagine how it’s been before.

What I basically did was that I created four smart mailboxes, named “This week“, “Unread“, “Need Action” and “Follow-up“. “This week” captures all mails I got and sent during the last five days including today. “Unread” is pretty self-explanatory. Every mail which requires me to react on the content, let it be writing a reply or following a link to fill out forms etc. will be flagged green with a custom shortcut and afterwards appears in “Need Action“, since this smart inbox captures all mails with a green flag. Every mail which just contains information and is relevant for an upcoming date or event yet doesn’t require me to write a reply will get a blue flag and then shows up in “Follow-up“, which shows all mails with a blue flag. With a system like that you’ll like to never forget an important mail as well as improving the efficiency of your email communication.

I added a ∆ to all four smart inboxes to make them visually distinguishable from other elements of the "Favorites Bar".

I added a ∆ to all four smart inboxes to make them visually distinguishable from other elements of the “Favorites Bar”.

So have a look at the article, especially at the paragraph “Smart Mailboxes and colored flags”. And if you like to go beyond follow this link from lifehacker.com which also covers some plugins for Mail.app, i.e. a plugin which enables you to encrypt your mails with OpenPGP (a standard for encrypting and decrypting data).

Learning Drupal with “Friendly Machine”

For my student job I’m currently looking into Drupal, a content managing system (or even more fitting, a framework for building one) like WordPress which is the platform on which this blog is running. Though I’d like to call me a savvy computer and web user I some difficulties delving into Drupal and to understand the underlying logic of its system (and especially its terminology). Probably because it’s way more complex than WordPress with which I’m quite familiar with by now. The good about this complexity is that you can craft your website a lot more precise and differentiated. The flip side: getting into it as new user without a significant knowledge of PHP etc. is hard.

Fortunately I stumbled upon Friendly Machine by web developer John Hannah who is able to give you a nice overview of Drupal. Have a look at it before you consider using Drupal, it’ll ease you the start.

Analog watch

“My analog watches are my reminder that utility exists apart from an internet connection and usefulness doesn’t require the latest software.”

— Shawn Blanc (link)

Bloggers rejoice: GettyImages just got free for us

The Verge and many other online magazines report that GettyImages, the world’s largest photo service, has announced to free blogs from the requirement to license photos from their huge stock collection. If you select a photo on their website most of the time you’ll notice three little icons below which enable you to tweet, to post on Tumblr or to embed a photo on your blog.

This is really a landmark decision as it enables small-scale bloggers to access a photo database which has been reserved to financially strong customers like newspapers, (glossy) magazines and so forth. If used wisely it has the potential to boost the quality of blogging as whole. Obviously embedding photos from GettyImages faces some restrictions, i.e. you’re not allowed to use a photo in a commercial context. But that’s a welcoming trade-off I guess.

Ed Sheeran — I See Fire

My currently favourite song.

Changing Workflows — From the iPad Back to Paper

One thing I find most fascinating is to see how people approach their tasks with the help of some sort of technology. It takes quite a bit of effort to establish a more or less consistent workflow and but I think it’s worth dedicating some thoughts on that topic.

At that point a more precise definition of workflow might be helpful to further illustrate my point. Establishing a workflow means for me answering the questions, a) how to organize the tasks in the context of your schedule and other requirements, b) which dedicated tools or technology you choose in order to accomplish or accompany the task, and c) how to employ (or not employ!) those tools or technology within your tasks. This sounds utterly abstract, I know, and I’m not quite sure if this definition is applicable to a very broad definition of “task”. Yet I believe it works quite well with any academic, research, mentally focused whatsoever sort of task — so pretty much the kind of tasks I’m confronted with at university.

© Apple

(Unfortunately this one is not mine.)

When I started studying I tried to employ my iPad as working device. Using mainly two apps, I did most of the note taking with iA Writer for iPad and managed the lecture slides, PDFs and so forth with GoodReader for iPadwith iCloud as backbone for file management across iOS and OS X. It worked quite well and it had the advantage not having to struggle with loads of paper like my colleagues.

Yet, this workflow had its flaws as soon as it came down to mathematical stuff, because you can’t write down equations as convenient as simple words with your iPad. There might have been an appropriate app solving that problem, but I’m sure it would have been disturbingly ugly to look at. I circumvented that with always reaching out for my notepad if it was inevitable and for the first two semesters I sticked with that workflow.

With the new semester having started in October I almost completely ditched the iPad. Instead I revived my love for pen and paper. Interestingly it gets much more ingrained in my head if I write something down with a real pen. (It would fascinating to find out if that’s just habituation or if there’s some sort of deeper connection between learning and writing things down.) But of course I’m not just scribbling in my notepad, setting up a framework is essential to work efficiently! That’s why I’m basically working with a special sort of note paper I can easily print at home. It’s supposed to be a double-sided document which is why I bought 90g/qm paper, so that I can write on both sides without any problems.

abc-list indesign screenshot

On the front page you see 26 lines, one for each letter of the alphabet. Whenever I take notes I try to fit each point in one line (preferably less) starting with a letter I can associate the point with. Mostly those points start with words of which the first letter is the same as the line is starting with. But sometimes a line is already taken up so you have to come up with an appropriate solution (which can require quite a bit of creativity to paraphrase your point). On the backside you have squares familiar from math notepads, because some things just can’t be stuffed into the framework of the so-called “abc-list“.

I work with abc-lists most of the time, they are quite versatile. They are not just great for lecture notes, drafting concise outlines of much more complex papers whatsoever is working as well. Actually, the concept of abc-lists is part of a relatively new the research field of learning methodology and mnemonics (which explores techniques how to memorize things), but this is story I’ll delve into at another point.

Wrapping it up: whatever technology or techniques you use with your workflow, make sure everything feels as intuitive (and efficient) as possible. That’s why I don’t regret ditching the iPad, because the abc-lists just feel more intuitive to work with, which is the crucial point. Also, working with such a tight framework is quite helpful, because it requires your mind to be more focused and in a way creative. Consider that framework aspect for your workflow setup as well!

If you’re curious to test the abc-lists for yourself, you can download the template I designed right here. Recommendation: Print it as double-sided document on 90g/qm paper.

Bayreuth

Actually this picture is a bit misleading. Bayreuth is not famous for being blessed by countless sun hours during winter times. Nevertheless I was able to catch some sunlight before it ceased irreversibly for the day. Looks quite nice there, doesn’t it?

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