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Free, multi-platform pro-like applications for students

Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free

– Free Software Foundation

 

Going through graduate studies (or even undergraduate studies), is about creativity, hard work and learning not to loose information, not to drop the ball on ideas and projects. In order word, part of it is also about being able to put your ideas to work for you in an efficient manner. In the following are a few applications to help you along the way. Of course, nothing precludes the good old pen and paper. I personally really enjoy my Lamy 2000 fountain pen and a Leuchtturm 1917 whitelines notebook (but this is for another post!).

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Why not give (productivity) software this year!

pro·duc·tiv·i·ty  (prdk-tv-t, prdk-)

n.

1. The quality of being productive.
2. Economics The rate at which goods or services are produced especially output per unit of labor.
3. Ecology The rate at which radiant energy is used by producers to form organic substances as food for consumers.

Why not give yourself or a love one access to well design software? With the new years usually comes the time to take resolution(s). And like most they are forgotten a few weeks later.  This is because, we human being, get our attention so easily put elsewhere, diverted by what surround us, in particular the consumption media. So, we tend to get into an unproductive state by putting off what must or should be done. Simply stated procrastinating.

pro·cras·ti·nate  (pr-krst-nt, pr-)

v. pro·cras·ti·nat·edpro·cras·ti·nat·ingpro·cras·ti·nates
v.intr.

To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.

v.tr.

To postpone or delay needlessly.
It turns out that having tools that you like to use because of its physical design (an iMac, a Mac Book air or even the new Mac Pro!), the feeling it provide when touching it (like a well-made pen or paper notebook) and well design software all help in getting things done. There are many reasons why certain tools, hardware or software give use incentive to be productive over others or make us more productive. The important point is that you have to use them, use them everyday and actually like to do it.
The first rule in being productive is to actually do something. The second rule is for that something to actually be part of a whole that get your projects moving forward. This implicitly means that you can track your projects, the tasks associated with them and the necessary documents (files, e-mail, …). If you hate the software and hardware your are using to do this or they get in the way because they are not well conceive, you will loose interest, loose track of the important stuff and suddenly the not so important stuff become at the forefront of what you are doing.
Here are a few well design software you might want to invest into (some are actually free) and that are available to OSX and iOS:
  • Professional digital document management: DevonThink Pro Office and DevonThink To Go. On the Mac, you have indexing and AI doing automatic filing for you. No need for Tags. Tagging is a good concept but it does not scale and its efficiency certainly breaks down once you have tens of thousands of files.
  • Note taking app: Evernote (free) or NoteBook. I also find Apple Notes useful since it is always with me on my Mac, iPhone and iPad.
  • Task manager: Wunderlist (free – perfect for student and much better than Apple Reminder) or professional grade Cultured Code Things and OmniFocus.
  • MindMapping software: XMind (free) and iThoughts (Nice interface, intuitive to use, my favorite).
  • Project management (for large projects): Merlin and OmniPlan.
  • PDF management and citation software: Papers 2 (stay away from the “new” Papers 3), Sente or Zetero (free).

Some software should also allow you to get stuff done so you do not have to. In that category, I could not live in the digital world without:

  • 1Password: Strong passwords for all for all of your accounts, safely stored using the best encryption scheme. Never loose time again with passwords.
  • SaneBox: Made me realize that over 40% of my incoming e-mails are non actionable. SaneBox get them out of the way automatically for me. I never thought I would say this (I work with e-mail since 1991!!!), but 5$/month well spent. Work with IMAP, Exchange, iCloud, GMAIL.
  • MacUpdate Desktop: Unless you get all of your software from the Apple Store on OSX, you need to track your software and keep them up to date. MacUpdate does this for you very efficiently. Run it once a month, no sweat.
  • Alfred: Spotlight on steroid!
Merry Xmas!

Zotero on the go!

In the previous post I was describing the free Zotero scientific manuscript management software. Through a comment via this blog and others, I was pointed out that there are some solutions for access to your PDFs on the go.

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Invest in a good manuscript (PDF) management system

If, as starting graduate students, you are following my first key advice of reading on a regular basis scientific manuscripts related to your field of research in general and your project in particular, you’ve probably reach an obvious observation:  you are collecting a large number of PDF files very quickly.

There are, of course, a few more observations to be made:

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