The resources below might be especially useful if you are an academic, student, or scientist.
Flashcards I made to review various topics using the spaced-repetition software (SRS) from Brainscape. I try to make it a habit to create cards whenever studying something new or coming across something interesting I’ve read online or in a book. I use 2x daily for 10 minutes each, once after waking up and another right before bed. Able to be used on phone, tablet, or pc. Feel free to copy + edit for your own use. I’ve used various SRS tools in the past, but Brainscape was one of the few which gave me the personal control of Anki combined with the aesthetic UI of something like Duolingo or Supermemo. For those who don’t know much about how great Spaced Repetition is for hacking your memory, take a look at this awesome comic! Also, see my post for more on memory hacking.
My decks include:
…and various other niche topics I like to study or read about :)
*One common misconception is that you can only use flashcards and space-repetition principles for fields like Biology where material often comes in bite-sized facts and being skilled in the art of memorization is important. I disagree with this and think that you can use flashcards even in computer science and math. Michael Nielsen talks about this at length and uses spaced repetition to deepen his understanding of math and understand academic literature and papers.
One of the most handy browser extensions I’ve used is Unpaywall. If you ever come across a paper online that happens to be behind a paywall, this plugin will automatically show a little green tab that pops up showing an open-access version if it is available.
There are also other things like Sci-Hub that some people are against and don’t recommend ;) A list of active links are available here, as well as helpful browser plugins found here and here which upon a single click will automatically redirect you to the available PDF behind the paywall.
For free versions of textbooks and fiction, you could take a look at Library Genesis (If the current link is dead just google it).
Like so many others, I am the type of person to constantly open up new tabs in my browser whenever I research a particular subject or just casually browse the web. To keep your tabs neat and tidy (and help prevent your pc from slowing down), this better-onetab browser extension allows you to temporarily tuck away those tabs into lists with one easy click from which you can restore later. You can also organize these lists for future reference.
A Google Chrome extension that gives you keyboard shortcuts for navigating your browser, giving you “control in the spirit of the Vim editor”. You can stick to your regular ol’ Chrome shortcuts to open+close tabs, go back+forward through a page, etc, but I found the most useful feature of this was the simple pressing down with both my index fingers to automatically assign a ‘letter’ to each clickable link in the browser window, allowing me to mostly forgo the use of my mouse / trackpad when browsing. It’s customizable too, but just make sure that if you like using shortcuts for your jupyter notebook experience that you also adjust the settings so that these new Vimium shortcuts are site-specific and do not conflict.
See the above link for a side-by-side comparison of the different citation managers available. I personally chose to go with Zotero. I use to just blindly save all the academic papers I read to my Google Drive (albeit in a highly organized topic-based folder system), but when it actually comes to the writing process you’d preferably like something that can scale such that it organizes and automates the citation process of every little tidbit of info that you’ve ever consumed or come across. Plus, some of these citation managers have a built-in search in case you want to write about something where you don’t remember where you originally read it from (which will happen, trust me!)
Connected Papers allows you to quickly get a graphical overview of a new academic field by allowing you to enter a paper and then the site builds a graph of similar papers in the field. Useful for understanding trends, popular works, influence networks, and exploring new researchers/labs that you otherwise would not have found by simple searching.
Smart Citations is a nice Chrome plugin which allows you to see how a scientific paper has been cited via an interactive graphical network, while also providing context and classification and whether the citation provides support or contrasting evidence. This is especially handy if you are just starting to delve into a particular field or sub-field of interest and need to understand how the flow of information is circulating in the academic community, who the big influential players are, etc. I also find it useful to find names of people / academic teams that I can reach out and potentially collaborate with.
Scholarcy is another neat Chrome extension which processes a paper in your browser (whether publicly available or personally uploaded) and generates a summary of the paper for you, in addition to extracting select parts of that paper like diagrams, sections, tables, citations, statistics, contributions, etc. Extremely handy for quickly getting a high-level summary understanding of a paper, repurposing select parts for blog posts, and especially for “meta-science” researchers looking to analyze select parts of papers in aggregate.
ResearchRabbit bundles together many of the aforementioned functions such as a citation manager, literature search, alerts/notifications for new papers, graphical visualization of author networks, sharing & collaboration, etc. It’s free for life for institutional academics and as of 2021 is a relatively recent tool that’s just being built with more features coming soon. It also has a handy import tool that can take in papers from your Zotero manager, but the ease of the interface between the two is still lacking at the moment. Looking forward to seeing more promising things from this team & similar projects.
When I need to write a report or paper using LaTeX to get the correct math symbol type-setting, I often find myself forgetting the proper syntax for how to write certain algebraic manipulations or mathematical symbols. Instead of always having to look the correct syntax up, I can take a quick screenshot of my digital textbook, wikipedia page, etc, that I’m currently looking at using this handy ‘snipping’ tool assigned to a hotkey, which then automatically converts the image to the corresponding LaTeX syntax. Super useful!
For an online LaTeX editor (browser-based so no messing with downloading+installation of software), I recommend Overleaf! It has built in templates, allows collaboration, documents history, gives real-time rendering, etc.
As far as I know, the above is the ideal search engine with respect to not creating user profiles and putting privacy first. Think of it like a better version of Incognito mode where nothing is saved and it shows all users the same search results.
I personally use multiple different web browsers, but one of my favorites that was recently brought to my attention is Brave. Many neat features are listed in the above link, but the one that stands out is the integrated toggling of Tor mode for better privacy protection.
Tails is a version of the Linux operating system that can start on almost any computer from a USB drive. Because it acts as a fresh computer every time you boot it up, it comes with built-in tools like automatically routing internet usage through the Tor network, encrypting your files + emails (Claws Mail client), having a built-in chat encryption plugin (Pidgin), and most importantly, it “leaves no digital footprint on your machine” by overwriting the system RAM when the OS shuts down, triggered automatically when the boot medium (USB) is physically removed (relying on the Linux kernel’s free memory poisoning feature). Used by Snowden, the NSA apparently deemed it a major threat to its mission in an internal presentation in 2014.
For this site I use a combination of Jekyll for working with my HTML + Markdown, and GitHub pages for free hosting. Since my daily work has more to do with scientific computing, web-based programming was completely new to me. I highly recommend first starting with a free Jekyll template and messing around with it from there. Newbie-friendly + free :)
A scientific-computing environment commonly known as a ‘notebook’ which features a REPL-like interface to make the combination of programming, experimenting, plotting, visualization, and documentation of code very easy in a nice, personal lab notebook-like format (or you can just use this online browser-based REPL environment if you are new to programming or teaching someone new to programming). Project Jupyter allows the use of programming in a variety of languages (like Python, R, Julia, Scala, etc). I usually recommend downloading and installing everything in one fell swoop using the Anaconda package management system and using the newer JupyterLab instead of the older jupyter notebooks. Check out the useful widgets and extensions to make your environment more IDE-like such as adding Git integration, variable-inspecting, etc.
For more advanced IDE needs, I currently use VSCode (there’s even a new handy extension that lets you open up a jupyter notebook within VSCode and step through line-by-line within an individual notebook cell to debug). Quite useful!
If you would like to share your notebooks online I recommend a combination of nbinteract and Binder. The latter allows you to turn a repository of jupyter notebooks into an executable environment that you can share with others online, while the former uses the same concept but turns those notebooks into HTML pages (allowing neat interactive plotting widgets). Great for creating tutorials or for instructors teaching classes.
There were periods of my life such as when I was traveling and hitchhiking where I had little to no access to the internet. I know it’s somewhat difficult to imagine nowadays, especially if you live in a modern high-tech city, but there is still more than half the world’s population (and yes, even still regions in a country like the U.S. where some of my family live) where access to the internet is difficult to come by. Even if you are just out in nature, living the nomadic life away from traditional societal arrangements, experimenting with digital/internet minimalism, interested in prepping for black swan-like post-apocalyptic adjacent scenarios, or just don’t have the desire nor means to pay for reliable internet, you might still want to access and leverage mankind’s collective knowledge to learn something you didn’t know.
If you would like to download all of Wikipedia (as of 2018, roughly 90 GB with images or 50 GB without), all the implicit coding knowledge stored within the communities, posts, and threads of Stack Overflow (~60 GB), all of the Crash Course YouTube series of courses from Astronomy to Anatomy & Physiology (~15 GB) or the popular WikiMed’s medical encyclopedia used by doctors and students (~1 GB), all of Khan Academy’s courses (~40 GB), all of Project Gutenberg’s vast collection of public domain books (~40 GB), or OpenStreetMap with street-level maps of cities (the entire file compressed is ~100 GB or ~1300 GB uncompressed, but I would recommend only getting those cities you need)…or any other online site in which you would like an offline copy of, definitely check out Kiwix, an open-source software project that lets you download and browse text/video content offline using the ZIM file format. It’s supported on Android, Windows, GNU/Linux, MacOS, and iOS. Some notable uses have been to smuggle access to North Korea, encyclopedia access in Cuba, education in non-connected areas of Africa, US prison systems, and aboard ships in Antartic waters.
Especially useful for those that are in low-resource areas like rural schools, refugee camps, orphanages, non-traditional schooling, or prison systems, you might also want to check out Kolibri which has a clean interface that facilitates downloading content once in an area of connectivity, and then allowing peer-to-peer sharing in an offline local network with other devices or carried by foot, charmingly dubbed the Sneakernet.
If you would like to go a step further on the self-sufficiency spectrum (especially useful for rural non-connected areas), you might also want to create an Internet-in-a-box and run all of this via an old phone, computer, hard drive with a built-in hotspot, or a comparatively cheap, small, and portable $10 Raspbery Pi. The latter can then run off of a battery source like a rechargeable external phone battery or even under low energy solar-powered conditions. Setup is incredibly easy. You can find instructions here or here. I particularly like the Raspberry Pi hotspot + cheap Kindle setup for extremely minimal power consumption.
If you are concerned about generally minimizing the digital resources consumed by your devices, here is a handy list of alternatives to common bloatware software, or software that is meant for low-power consumption, is not CPU-intensive, and doesn’t run all those multitasking processes in the background.