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I want to make this post because I’m feeling overwhelmed with choice. There are way too many services for me to try and keep up with — to the point where I need a service to keep up with the services I’m using! I’m on an eternal hunt to find the best, and it’s costing me more time (and occasionally money) than if I were to just stick with one. So here is my drawn-out methodology for how I use and collect notes, data, and articles, and how I use and interpret social media. I hope this helps other students but to be honest I’m writing it out of selfishness so I can clear my head! Inspired by the recent book The Information Diet by Clay Johnson, I thought I would attempt to itemize my communications and research because I’ve found myself trying too hard to stay on top of things. I’m not sure the book is worth paying ten dollars for, as Amazon reviews seem mixed, but nonetheless an information diet is a sound idea.

To do research:

  • Library online catalog/PDF full text journals from home (through a proxy which they allow).
  • Bing/Google to find good primary and secondary sources that are old and out-of-print or just not in print but online instead, social media (I’ll come back to that), print books, magazines (of course, but not often).

You’ll notice I don’t mention Wikipedia. That’s because I refuse to look at it while researching so I don’t get suckered into using it. I will sometimes use it as another fact check, to glean the meaning of something quickly, or to see if there are other sources available.

To read research: Interesting news articles and analysis (and other nonfiction longform pieces that are not journalistic in nature–web-based HTML) go to ReadItLater. Articles that I want to save for citations go into Evernote via Evernote Clearly or ReadItLater’s “Send to Evernote” function. PDF journals go into a folder on my Dropbox account. I read them with FoxIt Reader (for PC) and GoodReader (for iPhone/iPod) so I can make annotations.

To write about research: Make an outline either in Word or on paper first (or do an ink note diagram with OneNote or Evernote). Word is used for writing papers and doing citations. I don’t use automatic citations because they’re never quite right. I always have the OWL Purdue site handy so I can see how to format them correctly. On larger papers I may look into something like Zotero or NoodleTools to keep my citations aligned with my quotations, but I have yet to need them and will pretty much always do manual footnotes and bibliography regardless.

To save assignments: Dropbox. Dropbox Dropbox Dropbox. You can set it up so you have a local copy of all the files on Dropbox as well as a server copy so you will almost always have at least one way to access your data. You can do this, and have it automatically sync new documents to their servers, if you install their Windows program.

To take notes in class: I use pencil and paper, starring key terms, and putting dates or other small tidbits in the left margin (I’m a history major). I later type them using Evernote and clean them up so they’re easier to search later. Complex stuff merits an ink note (although I haven’t had to use any yet). I can export Evernote notes as PDF files using CutePDF Writer instead of printing them, if anyone else asks for them and doesn’t have Evernote. I also record the lecture audio with my iPod and sometimes listen to it while I’m retyping notes to be sure I don’t miss anything. I’ll occasionally listen to it while studying for an exam. Obviously, this works better in some classes than others. If the professsor uses PowerPoint slides or handouts then I may not need to record it (but I still take handwritten notes). If the professor is relatively freeform then I do both. This works better in lecture-style classes. Classes centered on discussion or hands-on participation are more difficult to capture (although capturing a good debate can be a fantastic resource).

To stay on schedule:

  • Wunderlist for quick to-dos that I can get done in a week or so (read this chapter, do these questions, talk to the professor). Also for paper due dates and my bucket list.
  • Outlook Exchange calendar for repeated or long tasks (exams, special events, and the class schedule if I can’t remember it and until I get used to it).

To use social networking: Here’s the biggie.

  • Facebook is for friends and Words with Friends.
  • E-mail is for close friends, support, online orders and slower form newsletters than RSS. Mailing lists are for staying in touch with projects I follow (like ReactOS) more closely and with less noise than the forum’s RSS feed and less interaction than IRC. Newsletters and DailyLit are for when I want it to be more personal and/or the RSS feed is lacking.
  • Texting is for quick emergency messages.
  • Forums are for relatively moderated slow discussion publicly.
  • IRC is for relatively unmoderated live discussion privately (and tends to be more technical).
  • Instant messaging clients are last resorts.
  • Skype is for emergency calls to others without landline or cell service; also useful for class discussions and study groups although I haven’t had to do that yet.
  • Reddit is for fun, intelligent discussion of niche topics mixed with stress relief.
  • Metafilter is for a more serious specific set of questions and with much less noise than Twitter or Reddit. It’s not divided by topic, but instead organized by user-specified tags. You never know what you’ll get, but you know it’ll almost always be quality content.
  • Twitter is for emergency messages, following the scene, and keeping up with stubborn people who don’t have an RSS feed for their site. Twitter is too much noise! Let me repeat that if you didn’t hear me. TWITTER IS TOO MUCH NOISE. Hashtags and business-ats make it look busy and when something moves as quickly as it does, almost impossible to read.
  • Flipboard is for Facebook and RSS on the go.
  • Zite is for interesting curated content not necessarily from another curated site. Many articles from Zite make it into my ReadItLater queue.
  • WordPress and blogging is for expanding on the things I read, and sharing them in a personable manner, but with more control than a forum.
  • StumbleUpon is for finding stuff that Zite, Metafilter, Flipboard, Reddit, or RSS misses and that you may not think to search for (e.g. “Reading” is one of my categories in Zite, but SU can bring a twist on that by giving me a website about, say, pictures of cats holding books, or a reading comprehension test, or a blend of bookcovers made into a collage, which is not something I would necessarily search for but something I would enjoy. It’s something that’s not noteworthy enough to appear in the news or as a front page post on Metafilter or Reddit (although both have a long history with cats), but something that is relevant.
  • Tumblr is indescribably fantastic.
  • Flickr is for Creative-Commons licensed images I can use for presentations or nontraditional assignments.
  • Downcast is for catching podcasts.
  • Usernames and passwords are scattered in text files here and there, or in Evernote, or memorized.

Phew. See what he means? There are way too many choices. You really have to make sure you use all of what you signed up for. If not: get rid of it. Maybe I should practice what I preach, though.

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I finally understand Twitter

When I sit down to say something in a blank space with unlimited potential, I feel overwhelmed. What should be relaxing becomes enraging because I don’t know when I can stop talking. I keep finding more to add, more to change, more to say, just more of everything.

But I’m not a long-form writer. I can’t read long-form writing. Books are hard for me. I don’t keep a diary even though I want to. Twitter is both the ruin of the attention span and the future of it. When I have a space so small, I can reduce myself to my core ideas. That’s more powerful (at least for me) than you might think. Maybe it makes me feel like I can show off by spouting off witticisms as I’m wont to do; though part of it is that genuine desire to reach the point in myself where I can say exactly what I mean, to the point, without making things longer than they need to be. I can talk more often about more things, and as someone who tends to whine about first-world problems, it’s liberating.

I know, I’m years too late. I still won’t join, but I get why people do.

(I’ll just go back under my rock now)

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Humans as fragile beings

When in the course of human events it becomes a matter of conversation to question your existence, you’ll get scared. I did, and am.

Never let your mind drift to things it’s not ready to handle. Mine did, and I’m still suffering. If you can, avoid it. Because when you realize that we don’t have any meaning outside our little miniscule existence, it’s mindnumbing. It’s almost like dividing by zero for a computer. You get gridlocked into this one impossible-to-shake problem. And that’s where I am right now.

Everything else is evolving faster than the human mind can digest. But my mind refuses to let it go either.

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There’s not really a reason I keep this blog alive. Well, that’s not entirely true.

It’s not for the popularity (obviously because I don’t have any), it’s not for the money or the fame or anything else. For me, this blog is important for two reasons.

The first is that I have a select friend who cares enough about me to read this stuff anyway. It’s kind of like by writing this, I’m talking to him, and whenever I talk to him, my real raw emotions tend to come out. By posting them here, anybody else can have access to and hopefully identify with some of what I feel. It’s a bold statement but I’d just about guarantee that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone. I’m hoping somebody will see this and realize that we’re all suffering to some extent. Some of us may have it better off but the truth is we’re all locked into our own minds, and we’re all just trying to survive.

You are not alone in the world having panic attacks, or agoraphobia, or social phobia, or OCD, or anything else. There really are people out there who understand and are willing to help. I hope you can do that and don’t have to suffer with what I’ve dealt with lately.

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Being mentally healthy can make or break your life more than a physical illness can. Even if you’re the most capable at whatever you do physically, you’ll never be able to achieve anything if you’re too scared to try. It’s important to get help for these kinds of things. And I hope that people can realize that poor mental health is not necessarily an impossible hurdle to overcome. It only becomes impossible when you let it take hold of you.

Don’t let the fear eat you like it’s eaten me. Please. You can do this. You are a capable, amazing, kind-hearted person. That applies to anyone reading this.

You can make it.

The second (selfish) reason is simply that sharing my experience helps me “deal”. I don’t know why I don’t just keep a paper journal instead of blogging. After all, this kind of thing isn’t really public material, is it? Probably not, but it should be, because too many people suffer in silence with disorders that can be handled more readily than people may think.

I’m trying to encourage people to talk about their problems because it really helps “get things off your chest”. And you may not be nearly as far out as you think. See the Children Full of Life documentary, for example. Fourth grade children are learning empathy and compassion. They’re learning how to identify with other people’s problems. More people need to teach that. More people need to be like that. In a room full of people, chances are you have something in common with at least one of them, You may even become a closer group by virtue of you being less afraid to demonstrate how you really feel. I teared up watching that documentary. It’s a beautiful sign of maturity on the part of the children and the teacher.

If there’s no other listening ear in your life, there’s always a pen and paper. Or sand and a stick, or your voice in an empty room, or a blog (or even skywriting). It’s hard to do, but accept how you feel at the moment and roll with it. Take some deep breaths, maybe close your eyes, and really get to know who you are.

Sorry for that sounding so cheesy, but as one of my favorite high school English teachers wrote in one of my journal entries we had to keep, “it always is when you talk about stuff like this”.

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This is like the third time it’s happened to me this week. I can’t sleep. I’ve been up until 4:30 almost every night. That makes me get up late, which is awful. I hate getting up late.

Last night borders on the worst panic attacks I’ve had. Every time I tried to sleep I freaked out. My whole body seized up and got tingly, and I had to jump out of bed because I felt incredibly off-balance, and it felt like I was either spinning around or falling. I know it sounds stupid but I went into the bathroom three times and stood for a while because it’s a small space and that helps get rid of some of the dizziness.

I’m still sick today. And usually sleeping it off gets rid of this problem. That bothers me.

But this whole thing could just be an inner-ear infection.

The reason this started was because a couple weeks ago I had a really bad panic attack at night (felt like I was falling and I couldn’t hold on to anything), in front of my mom, no less, and now ever since I guess I’m living in fear of that, so now they happen nearly every night. Nothing I’ve tried has helped a lot. It just has to go away on its own.

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Anxiety makes you lazy

Well it makes me lazy, anyway.

Ever since I started having this problem, I’ve noticed that since I’m not motivated to do much of anything because of this constant looming fear, that I just stop trying. I mean that’s not such a bad thing until you realize that I’m about to graduate from school.

It hit at a time where it was prime to destroy my adolescence, although I had panic attacks at least two years before it really hit hard. The problem though is that now I’m just starting to get out of it… but it’s kind of late for that now. It’s to the point where it’s hard for me to care about much of anything physical in the real world. It exists only as a means to live.

I’m so scared that this is going to make me unable to support myself. I’m going to do everyhing I can in order to stand on my own feet. But the problem is, with my lack of experience and all that jazz, that’s not a very large skill set. It’s unnerving to think about.

This is why I hate social networks. Everyone else is so well-to-do in life, but I’m sitting here worrying over things that should be beyond second-nature by now.

“Well, why don’t you do something about it?”

It’s a vicious cycle. I need to learn these things, but because everybody else already does, and they expect me to, they brush me off or forget that I need help with these things they can just do whenever they feel like it.

Should I blame this lack of skill on my education? I’m tempted. I hated in school how we never had home-ec. I still can’t cook — and that’ s  a practical skill that fewer and fewer people learn because the focus shifts to traditional academic test-passing and athletics.

I mean I don’t need to learn how to cook, but it’s something almost everyone else seems to know how to do. At the very least, other people my age can drive or pay cashiers at the store without hyperventilating.

I…can’t. But at least that makes me unique I guess.

My problem is I try to be completely altruistic. I do not want to get paid for my job. That’s part of the reason I disagree with making money from things people produce — whether it be inventions, books, or movies, or whatever else.

It is fundamentally selfish to gain money by producing something. My ultimate view of altruism is one where you’re able to produce everything you can without asking for or expecting or demanding any kind of compensation. At the very least, you shouldn’t refuse to do work based on the fact that you might not be able to get paid for it. Do it because it helps someone, helps the environment, or advances the state of happiness in the world.

That’s the way the world should be.

But anyway, like I was saying, I don’t want to get paid for my job. If I’m able to do what I want to do (school counselor/social worker/teacher) then it would be hypocritical of me to do so.

“Why?”

On the side of counseling, I know from experience that school is an incredibly hard place to get along in, particularly for people who have phobias or abnormal anxiety. For me to be paid to help them would make me feel like I would be cheating the people I’m intensely interested in helping. “I’m only here to help you because I’m getting paid” kind of thing. I don’t want to feel that way.

I didn’t want to do this until I took psychology last fall. It was really on a whim — something I just scribbled down on last year’s class scheduling sheet. It was a good choice because, at least for now, it’s cemented my life’s purpose.

But after taking it I started to realize that there are tons of people out there who might need help and don’t speak out. One class where we discussed phobias and anxiety made me want to jump out of my seat and tell the whole world “YES! I’m agoraphobic!” But I resisted, barely.

I mean no these kinds of things are not necessarily physical illnesses, and it might very well-justifiably be said that they’re not as important, either. As hellish as mental issues can be, though, I’d like to challenge that. Mental disorders can make you physically ill, after all.

I want to help schoolchildren for a couple reasons. One of those is, pretty obviously, I can see myself in them. We grow up in school, and arguably most of our social education and learning to fit into society comes during school years. When someone has issues in school, whether it be educational or mental, it can affect them the rest of their lives.

I’m not really trying to “fix” people.  I don’t think any kind of mental disorder is inherently bad, but if it weaves itself into someone’s life where that person is suffering or others are suffering then it becomes a problem.

I would also like to point out that in order to get anywhere in the world, it seems, you have to go through already established rails of communication. The best ideas in the world are forced through channels that are completely contradictory to their purpose.

An example of this would be the Free Software movement. This is something I am in total support of. But this idea has spread through proprietary and patented channels like the Internet and computer circuitry.

You have to distribute new ideas through already-established means. That’s frustrating.

Of course this blog is unpopular. But it would defeat the purpose to make it otherwise.

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I’m pretty mediocre at a lot of things in life. I keep trying to get better, but I never do. And now I think I know why.

I impose too much on myself. One of my biggest dreams is to be grandiose. I want people to be wowed by me. I guess that’s pretty selfish and petty, but it’s a latent emotion that needs to be gotten out of the way.

I’ve been afraid to do anything because I don’t want my attempts to be less than perfect. It seems the harder I try, though, the more mistakes I make, or the more I notice them.

Let’s examine my most frustrating problem, and the one which has ruined my life, past and future.

I fail hard at social interaction. But it’s so easy. I can see it, follow it, understand it perfectly. I can never act on it like everyone else does. There’s so much I want to be able to do, but something I don’t know about ties me down. I’m always left as an observer, even if I get the strongest urge to participate.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about how to learn to act more on your impulses. The results are never as bad as they seem to be in your head. With exceptions, which you can imagine, but generally nothing bad is going to happen if you have a gut feeling to do something.

I’m rarely a person to act on impulse. Before I had anxiety problems, I was a pretty bold and brash child. I’ll always regret the hell I put my parents through when I was growing up. I didn’t hesitate at all to lash out and express my anger to the fullest extent a kindergarten child’s lungs, fists, and legs could handle.

But whenever I look back on that, I can’t help but wince. How could I have the audacity to hurt someone else? Maybe being a child is different, and it’s only a matter between now and then of maturity, but I think knowing what I did hurt someone else has caused me to repress feelings moreso than just being “adult about it”.

I have fantasies of lashing out, or even just doing what seems to come so naturally to everyone else. I just want to act on a whim and stop halting myself and missing opportunities that I later regret not doing. It’s such a vicious cycle.

I don’t know what I’m afraid of. People like me. I love other people’s company.

It’s so easy. My mind just won’t let me do it. Maybe I’m scared of being rejected or humiliated. Maybe I’m afraid of losing friends. Maybe I’m afraid I won’t be wanted. Maybe I’m just completely out of it.

Let’s be honest here: How many people are going to remember what you did five minutes ago? Are you going to remember what you did five minutes ago?

They won’t, and you won’t. Even if the bad omens hang around longer than you’d like, the humiliation and the memory of what happened is always blown up to be ten times as bad as it really was. It’s such a fleeting moment. It’s almost nonexistent. No sense worrying about it.

I realized the truth a long time ago that everything I’ve ever been worried about (as far as social phobia and anxiety problems go) wasn’t worth worrying about at all. Everything has always worked out, one way or another. But why doesn’t my mind believe that yet? Do I need to use subliminal message cassettes?

What in the world is stopping me? I put too many limitations on myself. I’m scared to go out in the world and experiment, because experience has taught me that it leads to nothing but rejection.

It’s not true, and I know it’s not true, that I’d be rejected. People don’t expect as much out of me as I worry about. I just need to learn not to hold myself back and stop putting so much peer pressure from myself onto myself. Goodness knows I don’t get it from other people as much as I do from my own mind.

I don’t know.

I’d like to thank GlowingFaceMan (now Xamuel)’s article Self-Imposed Rules for inspiring me to consider myself.

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