Learn Smarter By Taking Rich, Hypertext Notes
As a student, I learned to take notes in Braille while in class and while learning from audio books. When reviewing the material, reading the notes was far more efficient than re-listening to the original recordings; however at the time, I had no means to easily jump to the original content when perusing my notes.
Fast-forward to the age of online computing, a complete audio desktop in the form of Emacspeak, a wealth of online resources in the form of E-Books, Audio Books, Podcasts and Blogs, all backed by Universal Search and accessible from a consistent environment. So I've been asking myself what note-taking in this environment should look like. This article summarizes the present state of what I use at present.
2. Use Case Requirements
- All of the following should work equally well for locally stored material, e.g., downloaded E-Books from Bookshare.org or Project Gutenberg, as well as material hosted on the Internet in the form of Blogs and Podcasts.
- Create named bookmarks in E-Books (EPub, Daisy).
- Create AMarks —bookmarks that point to positions in an audio files.
- Above should be possible independent of whether the learning material is available locally, or accessed via the Internet.
- Enable the creation of hyperlinks to such bookmarks.
- Enable the easy creation of notes — organized by topic — while reading E-Books or listening to audio material.
- Enable the embedding of hyperlinks to the bookmarks mentioned earlier within these notes.
- Final experience: creation of notes should require minimal effort; when reding the notes, it should be easy to open the relevant portion of the content that underlies the notes.
3. User Experience
3.1. Create And Browse Bookmarks In E-Books
- You can open Project Gutenberg EPubs via the Emacspeak Bookshelf — see see Emacspeak Epub.
- You can download and open Bookshare books using module Emacspeak Bookshare.
- Both of those modules open books using Emacs' built-in EWW browser.
- Module Emacspeak eww implements eww-marks, a bookmarking facility that manages bookmarks in EPub and Daisy books.
With a book open, you can:
- Create named bookmarks,
- Browse all saved bookmarks in your library,
- And open a given bookmark to continue reading.
- Bookmarks can also be stored as org-mode links for later insertion in an org-mode file, this means these hyperlinks integrate into notes taken in org-mode without any additional work.
3.2. Create And Browse AMarks In Audio Books
- AMarks are Emacspeak's audio equivalent of traditional bookmarks.
- An AMark encapsulates the location of the audio content, a time-offset, and a bookmark name.
- AMarks once created can be navigated to when playing that content via module Emacspeak MPlayer which provides a rich but seamless interface — here, seamless means you can play media content without switching from any on-going task, and in the context of this article, that means you can continue taking notes without explicitly switching context to the media-player.
- Emacspeak provides an AMarks Browser that lets you browse and play any AMark in your library.
- Finally, AMarks like bookmarks can be stored as org-mode links for later insertion into an org-mode file.
See Emacspeak Amarks for the user manual.
3.3. Create Bookmarks On Web Pages
org-capture for inspiration.
3.4. Create Audio Bookmarks In Podcasts
emacspeak-m-playeris used to play Podcasts and other forms of online audio-content, e.g., talks published on Youtube.
- This module can store org-mode links to such content; storing such a link captures the current time offset into the content being played.
- These stored links can then be inserted into an org-mode file; opening those links using org-mode hyperlinking facilities lets you resume playback at the marked position.
3.5. Create On-Line Notes Using Org-Mode
- See the Org Manual for details on taking notes in org-mode.
- Insert Hyperlinks To E-Books And Audio In Org-Mode by first storing the link as described earlier.
- Review Notes, Follow Hyperlinks To Review Original Material by opening the notes file in org-mode.
4. Conclusion: Looking Back, Looking Forward
- This describes a flexible workflow that is built out of multiple small components.
- Illustrating various workflows as above outlines the space of possible solutions.
- Keeping the notes in org-mode ensures that the notes are long-lived, since org-mode files are essentially plain-text with an easy to parse syntax for parsing the underlying structure if needed to implement future extensions.