Friday, October 14, 2022

Learn Smarter By Taking Rich, Hypertext Notes

Learn Smarter By Taking Rich, Hypertext Notes

1. Background

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

  1. All of the following should work equally well for locally stored material, e.g., downloaded E-Books from or Project Gutenberg, as well as material hosted on the Internet in the form of Blogs and Podcasts.
  2. Create named bookmarks in E-Books (EPub, Daisy).
  3. Create AMarks —bookmarks that point to positions in an audio files.
  4. Above should be possible independent of whether the learning material is available locally, or accessed via the Internet.
  5. Enable the creation of hyperlinks to such bookmarks.
  6. Enable the easy creation of notes — organized by topic — while reading E-Books or listening to audio material.
  7. Enable the embedding of hyperlinks to the bookmarks mentioned earlier within these notes.
  8. 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

  1. You can open Project Gutenberg EPubs via the Emacspeak Bookshelf — see see Emacspeak Epub.
  2. You can download and open Bookshare books using module Emacspeak Bookshare.
  3. Both of those modules open books using Emacs' built-in EWW browser.
  4. Module Emacspeak eww implements eww-marks, a bookmarking facility that manages bookmarks in EPub and Daisy books.

With a book open, you can:

  1. Create named bookmarks,
  2. Browse all saved bookmarks in your library,
  3. And open a given bookmark to continue reading.
  4. 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.

See Org Mode Manual, Emacspeak Bookmarks, Emacspeak Bookshare, and Emacspeak EPub for relevant sections of the user manual.

3.2. Create And Browse AMarks In Audio Books

  1. AMarks are Emacspeak's audio equivalent of traditional bookmarks.
  2. An AMark encapsulates the location of the audio content, a time-offset, and a bookmark name.
  3. 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.
  4. Emacspeak provides an AMarks Browser that lets you browse and play any AMark in your library.
  5. 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

See module org-capture for inspiration.

3.4. Create Audio Bookmarks In Podcasts

  1. Module emacspeak-m-player is used to play Podcasts and other forms of online audio-content, e.g., talks published on Youtube.
  2. This module can store org-mode links to such content; storing such a link captures the current time offset into the content being played.
  3. 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

  1. See the Org Manual for details on taking notes in org-mode.
  2. Insert Hyperlinks To E-Books And Audio In Org-Mode by first storing the link as described earlier.
  3. Review Notes, Follow Hyperlinks To Review Original Material by opening the notes file in org-mode.

4. Conclusion: Looking Back, Looking Forward

  1. This describes a flexible workflow that is built out of multiple small components.
  2. Illustrating various workflows as above outlines the space of possible solutions.
  3. 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.