Category Archives: Tools

Software, learning, pedagogy, writing, productivity, workflow, distractibility , in other words, things related to grad school.

Concept / Mind Mapping

A sheet of paper and a pen work quite will for concept mapping, but lack flexibility to rearrange things as one thinks them through. There are a lot of programs for mind mapping, but I find many of them are too restrictive. They want to arrange things for you, or determine what the links look like, etc. Below are a few that I do find helpful.

Scapple, from Literature and Latte, who are the makers of Scrivener.

Tinderbox, a a visual database, concept-mapping, note-taking system. I bought it, but have not used it to its full potential. Scapple is easy, allowing me to get ideas down quickly. Tinderbox would obviously allow more power to manipulate notes and maps.


Writing Software – Scrivener

Scrivener is a pretty amazing piece of software. Its genesis was for writing novels, but it is well suited to academic writing as well. Its reference section and cork board are nice to have, and allow one to view reference material while writing in an adjacent pane of the editor.



Notecards are essentially analog databases. I like the physicality of them – one can carry a concept and reference for that concept around in ones hand.

Luhmann’s Zettelkasten takes this to a whole new level.

Deep Work

Deep work is an elusive, but very productive state of mind. I’ve experienced this state in the past, mostly in the context of writing software, but Cal Newport raised my awareness of what it is and how beneficial it can be. Newport is quite the critique of social media, but maintains a website. So apparently websites aren’t “social media.”


Mortimer Adler, one of my learning heroes, says that one should annotate a book – have a conversation with the author, write summaries in the margins or at the head or foot of the page. Adler should know, he is one of the most well-read people of the 20th century, having written a two volume syntopicon of some 100+ topics gleaned from a 50+ volume encyclopedia. He even wrote books on how to read a book, and how to learn.