Howdy!

Posted September 8, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: Uncategorized

A big hello to all those who’ve stopped by from lifehacker. Almost had a heart attack when I checked the stats page and realised that over 4,000 people read what I wrote!! Hope at least a few of you find the site useful and stick around to read more.

5 Ways to make lecture notes more readable

Posted September 6, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: Tips and Tricks

Once you’ve spent many hours (or what seems like many hours) in lectures copying down words of wisdom flowing forth from the mouth of your lecturer, it seems a shame for them to be completely unreadable when you later go to review your notes. Here are five ways to make your notes (not just for lectures) more readable. These are written mostly for those of us who handwrite but the fundamentals are useful for computers too.

1. Handwriting
The minimum requirement for readability is actual, physical readability. There’s no point in spending an hour writing scribble. I’m not saying you have to have perfect handwriting but it must be at least able to be deciphered later on.

2. Colour
I’m a big fan of colour in my lecture notes. Not colour as in a gay pride rainbow of different coloured pens and highlighters (I save that for my reading notes!) but just two colours to add some contrast. Personally I use blue and red. Red for headings, key points, case names and legislation and blue for everything else. This helps to break up the big block of text. If you find two pens too much of a hassle try the four or two colour pens which are avaliable. If blue and red are too boring try a rainbow!

3. Use bold, italics, underlines and CAPITALS
This is easier on the computer but works on paper too. Typefacing techniques can help to make key points easy to read and find.

4. Brackets
One of my favourite tricks is the use of square brackets ([ ]). If you get lost, bored or come up with an idea which could win you a Nobel Prize then stick it in square brackets. This works for stuff like “[I’m lost], “[NOTE: reread chapter 4]”, “[See lecture notes for quote]”, “[I don’t get this bit]”. This way your lecture notes will make more sense when you re-read them. This helps to avoid plagiarism too because you can clearly see which are your thoughts and which are others.

5. Arrows
I love arrows. Arrows appear copiously in my lecture notes. I use arrows, lines and boxes to show links between ideas and key points.

Hope this helps!

[UPDATE: I still I’m still getting heaps of links to this site from Lifehacker and various other popular internet sites. For those of you who have visited from such sites I’d very much like to welcome you to my blog and invite you to have a look around at the rest of the site. There’s tips and tricks for university/school study and also productivity and other information which is more general. If you’re a fan of lifehacker, 43Folders and other productivity p0rn sites then hopefully there’s stuff here which would be of interest to you.]

Posting Frequency

Posted September 6, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: announcements

After getting very carried away at the start of this little blog (40 or so posts in about two weeks) I’ve now, rather unsurprisingly, discovered that I can’t keep that up. Firstly I have uni, secondly I have a life and thirdly it’s just me here. Because of this I’m going to be posting quite a bit less. Expect one post per day most days of the week with a big post twice a week or so. I would like to write more but I just can’t think of ideas that quickly!!

Stumbles: Chumby

Posted September 5, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: fun, stumbles

I stumbled across this new proto-type product on the net the other day and I think it’s just so wonderful that even though it’s not strictly related to student life I have to post it.

The Chumby has been described as a glorified alarm clock and I think that’s the best place to start with a description. It works as an alarm clock but also runs widgets which can gather information from the internet (via wi-fi), play MP3’s, access RSS feeds and e-mail and play flash animations and programs. You control the chumby by a squeeze mechanism hidden within the soft exterior.

According to the official website:

It’s designed to show pictures that your friends send you from their cellphones, and messages from your IM buddies, your blogs and social network sites. It can display your daily horoscope and the weather, and a whole community of artists and animators can send their creations around the chumby network to entertain you.

The best bit, however, is that the people who created it did what I wish more hardware manufacturers would do – create some really cool hardware and make it open so that users, having paid their money, can do what they like with it.

It’s not avaliable yet but they’re expecting a price of under US $150 and from what I’ve seen so far I’ll be picking one up when they become available.

Some interesting links:
Why the chumby was invented
A creators inside perspective
Home page
What is the chumby

Use your university’s resources

Posted September 4, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: Links, Productivity/Tools, Tips and Tricks

Todays tip is to use the resources your university offers. Most colleges/universities have two things on their websites and in the library/on campus: a study skills unit and a collection of books on studying and being a student. If you need help with your studies these guys are great to go to because, at least at my uni, there is a specific person for each faculty who can help you with your essay and exam techniques (not write the essay for you – just help). They know what the lecturers want and the standard of work expected so can help you understand this better too. If you’re too scared to talk to a real person then generally much of the information is on the internet which is easier to access. Along with this service practically every library (local or at your education provider) will have books on study skills. Try a keyword search for “study skills” and your faculty/major.

If your university doesn’t have such information available then others do have it. Here’s some links to some of the more useful school websites:

University of Victoria Learning Skills Program Handouts – I liked this article on concept maps
University of Chicago – a collection of many “virtual pamphlets” from lots of different institutions
University of Manchester – the information on self evaluation contains some useful stuff on knowing about your own learning style
Brunel University – a useful online electronic guide to “some of the best ways to study”
University of Sussex – general study-skill information
Study Guides and Strategies – not a university site but a very comprehensive site with lots of information about different ways to study for different subjects and various study systems

These are just a few of the many websites out there. A quick search of “study skills” and a university name will help you to find more.

Hope this helps.

Inbox Thoughts

Posted September 3, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: Uncategorized

I posted earlier this week about a new GTD program called Inbox (link). I’ve had a play with it and here are some of my thoughts on what is a very promising program.

When I first opened Inbox what jumped out at me was the clear and uncluttered display. The second thing was that it is very obviously beta. The third was that it’s a very, very useful application. It’s a bit like a big notebook with spots for saving information, spots for keeping current projects and spots for keeping track of the why – why are you doing this. It’s also got space to record the goals of projects which is a very good way of focusing when starting a project.

I had a quick play on it but it’s really too beta to use as an organisational tool for the moment but it’s certainly shown me the potentials of the GTD system  and illustrated what simple software is capable of. I’m hoping the final release will be freeware but I’m not so sure it will be. If it is, however, I’ll be sure to download it and it might even be the first productivity software which has kept me interested for more than fifteen minutes.

Useful time management tips site

Posted September 2, 2006 by thepotentialblog
Categories: Links, Tips and Tricks

This website has some really useful time-management tips from students. I’m not sure on the origin of the site but the information is certainly very useful. One tip which is timely, I think, given that it’s back-to-school time in the Northern hemisphere is this one:

University is different from school
If you have come straight from school then University life will be very different, because there is a lot more freedom. This will seem great at first, but you also learn that in a way, it becomes more difficult than school (I am referring to the mode of study rather than the content of the study), because what you must learn is no longer handed to you on a plate. You must self-manage your studies and research the topics yourself. It is very easy not to do much studying at all in the first year, unless you are very self-motivated. If you are not, then try to help yourself by reading as many books as you can from the reading lists for your modules, or any books that are relevant to your course, even if you are not specifically learning about it at the time. It is good to discuss the issues you read about with others on your course. You need to form personal views about subjects, because if you can somehow personally relate to a subject area, then you are more likely to understand it. Even though your study is self-directed, you can still ask a lecturer if you do not understand something. A lecturer can help you to understand more fully, and advise you on the best books to use for your research. It is often difficult to balance study with other aspects of life. For example, some students have part-time jobs and/or families to think about, other students who have neither of these factors, may instead enjoy socialising a lot (usually in pubs and clubs). I think that this too is an important part of University life and life in general. Making friends and social action is an important part of social integration, and may even be relevant if you are studying a social science. Interacting with people also means that you can then study together and help each other. However, there should be a balance between study and other aspects of your life. It can often be difficult to self-motivate, so a good strategy may be to make up a rough timetable of your week, which allocates specific time slots where you should sit down and do some studying. Ensure that this time is quality time where you can really concentrate, away from family and friends, the TV or the radio.

This is something I wish I’d known when I started at uni.