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Confessions of a Late Adopter

Confessions of a Late Adopter
Confessions of a Late Adopter

    I love gadgets, I really do. But unlike your typical fanboy or -girl who can be found standing in line at Best Buy or the Apple Store days before a new product’s release, I’m more likely to be found trolling the aisles of the local thrift store, surfing eBay, or scrounging through the clearance bins at Office Max looking for my gadget fix. I’d like to say it’s merely economic, and that’s part of it, but the reality is this (cue dramatic music):

    I’m a late adopter.

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    Like I said, I love gadgets. I’m the go-to guy for any tech-related questions in my family, and carry a few pounds of silicon-and-LED goodness on my person at all times. The thing is, the shiny new gadget I’m oohing and aahing over is liable to be a year out two out of date.

    Why is that, I hear you ask? There are a few of good reasons I can think of to refrain from buying the latest thing, and even to buy one or more generations removed from a company’s current line-up.

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    • Cost: The most obvious reason to “buy old” is cost. Once an item has been replaced by a more up-to-date product, its price drops significantly. If I can get it used (which in the case of gadgets often means “kept in a drawer for three years and forgotten about”) I can save even more. I can’t usually justify the price of new gizmos to fulfill my gadget-lust, but I can usually spare the eBay price a year or two later.
    • Bugs: New products, especially when they break new ground, are often riddled with problems; waiting to buy lets the manufacturers and the forums and the howto sites catch up with fixes, patches, and workarounds.
    • Hacks: Users often find ways to add new functions to gadgets that the manufacturers never dreamed of. But new software, new uses for old software, sometimes entirely new operating systems take time to be developed. For example, there’s a version of Linux you can install on an iPod, but it has to be an older-generation iPod. (In fact, it seems that every gadget gets its own version of Linux after about 2 years. Call it Dustin’s Law.)

    Let me offer a couple of examples. The best laptop I ever had was a Compaq Armada 4200 I bought for my ex. (She wasn’t my ex at the time.) I bought it about 3 or 4 years old for around $200, with a trackball mouse (I hate trackpads), 32 MB memory and a 6 gig hard drive, running Windows 95. More than enough juice for the word processing and Internet surfing she did. Plus it was less than a foot wide and about an inch thick, and the battery doubled as a carrying handle. I liked playing with hers so much I bought another one for myself. Then I bought another one for her friend, and another for her parents.

    Here’s another example: I’m writing this post on an AlphaSmart 3000 I picked up in a thrift store over the summer for $20.00. The AlphaSmart is essentially a stand-alone keyboard with a 4-line, black-on-grey LCD screen and a little memory. You type stuff in, connect it to a PC with a USB cable, hit “send” and it literally types your document into whatever program you’ve opened on the computer. Intended for use in elementary schools, the AlphaSmart is small, light, tough as heck, ultra-simple, and it runs forever on 3 AA batteries. It’s the ultimate “monotasker”; it does one thing and one thing only, and because of that, it’s a favorite tool of writers who want the ability to write anywhere without the distractions and power demands of a laptop.

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    On the other hand, I bought my Treo 680 the week it was released. I’ve always been a late adopter with my Palms, from my first Palm IIIe bought as a closeout in 2000 to my Handspring Visor bought on eBay to my Treo 180 (also bought on eBay). I did buy a Zire 72 when they were still on the market, breaking the late-adoption pattern and setting a bad precedent — I had few problems with the Zire and thought Palm could pull it off again with the Treo 680.

    I was wrong. The 680 has been plagued with problems — poor battery life, weird phone behavior, coming on by itself at apparently random times, and so on. Some of these problems have been addressed, though nothing has made it live up to the promise that made me a Palm user in 2000. If I’d waited, I would have seen the forum postings and the blog articles that panned the unit — even as it was getting positive reviews from the standard tech sites. I’d have seen the near-total silence on Palm’s part as its users grew more and more vocally outraged about the faults that made using the Treo 680 so unpleasant. In short, I’d have bought something else and saved the $200.

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    Bill Maher recently joked that the iPhone’s early adopters, the folks who paid through the nose for their phones only to see the price dropped 2 months later, had paid a “nerd tax” for the privilege of showing off their shiny new gadgets before anyone else could get their hands on one. I’m not a nerd tax kind of guy, I guess — I don’t really care if my gadget belt makes others green with envy, so long as my tools do the job I need them to do. My feeling is that whatever gadget I’m looking at worked well enough a year or two ago, so unless the newest version is a revolutionary advance that offers me a must-have function that nobody else is offering, why not go with the older version?

    Look at iPods — a few years ago, folks were crazy over their iPods with photo capability. The devices themselves haven’t changed just because newer ones came out that play video or have wifi — they do the same job just as well today as they did then. If I want a quality device that plays music and maybe shows a picture or two, why wouldn’t I go with the old one?

    In the end, I suppose I’m advocating that we look away from the promises marketers make and think more deeply about what we need our gadgets to do. The folks who make this stuff have a lot invested in coaxing a new purchase out of us every year or so, but my needs — and probably yours — don’t actually change that much, that quickly. This isn’t to say I never buy anything new, but I think carefully about whether I can fill the same need with an older, cheaper device. It’s not settling — I don’t accept less than what I need. But I decide what those needs are, not a manufacturer or marketer who’s made a place for me in their fiscal planning.

    And that’s the point — know your needs and meet them as efficiently as possible. A lot of gadgets seem to be designed as an end in themselves — you don’t use them, they use you. Knowing what your needs are — whether as a professional in your field of work or as an individual desiring some form of entertainment or whatever your case may be — well enough to select the right tools might well lead you to be first in line at a launch-day event, but that’s a considered choice. Which is a world of difference from being there just because it’s new, and new must be good, right? Often, older isn’t only good enough, it’s better.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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