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Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's in a note?

I don't write down notes too often, really.  I do it when I feel it's expected of me, and sometimes not even then.  There are some things that need to be noted, though.  My thoughts about my research, for instance. It's really really hard to hold all the good ideas you have in your head indefinitely.  Since I really really want to graduate with a PhD, I need to hold those good ideas in a more permanent form.  Notes occasionally help improve my grades, though not that often.  For daily and weekly activities, my brain is good enough.  I write down noticeably less than most people.  Since I tend to read and write slowly, I prefer to listen and be able to respond quickly, rather than being bogged down with writing what was said 30 seconds ago.

This is a problem, don't you know.  People often take down notes under time pressure. People also want notes that give them the most information in the quickest way possible.  Note-taking is an internal discourse that allows you to connect ideas over long periods of time, and very efficiently.  Since I began contributing a couple bug fixes to the open source note-taking program called Tomboy, I've become aware of what kinds of features are most useful for note-takers.  This experience has led me to researching note-taking in depth.

I really love Tomboy because it sits right where I spend most of my time: inside my computer.  It's simple and intuitive for me, and it's more flexible and compact than writing on paper. For instance, I can link to websites.  I can also link to other notes, which I've found is an amazing feature when I want to take notes on multiple academic papers within a particular field...like my note-taking research!

What would make Tomboy better? Well, the main problem is that it lacks free-form control of note formatting and writing.  In other words, you use it like a flexible word processor.  Being able to "draw" your notes is huge for humans.  OK, let's take a step back from drawing.  This is clearly beyond the scope of Tomboy, which is supposed to be "simple". How about an implementation of an ad-hoc layout manipulator, in which movements of the mouse determine the shape and position of text on the screen either future, present or past.

Don't quite know what I'm talking about?  Well, take a look at the video demonstrating Crayon Physics Deluxe in the next post!

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