Taking notes when reading books is very helpful, if understanding and memorizing is what you want. The more times you process an idea in your head, the likelier it is that the idea will stick to you. I developed the habit of taking photos of fragments I found interesting, such that I could get back to them later and quickly sift through the notes, instead of having to go through the whole book again.
Prior to this, I used to takes notes on paper, but that raised several problems - I use different copy-books, I don't always have them with me; paper cannot be searched, thus the notes had to be digitized. That takes time and feels like doing the same work again. I then tried to write the digital notes as I was reading - that didn't work well, as it kept me tied to computers. I found a better solution that is less advanced, but is good enough for practical purposes - photos taken with a mobile phone.
The photos are published online - anyone can comment and exchange opinions. This brings us closer to a knowledge should be free world. As a result, my friends, colleagues can get involved, and so can perfect strangers! This turns reading books turns into a social activity.
Distilling books is the process of extracting key-ideas from a large text. The trick is in compressing a 500 page book into a set of 50 pictures that can be reviewed in half an hour. If you've read the book in the past - these snapshots will help you rebuild the big picture; if you haven't - they will help you decide whether you want to read the book or not. For an uber-lazy person, the distilled notes can serve as a replacement for the real thing (lossy compression is better than nothing).
The tools I rely on:
- Skitch for Android lets me take a photo, crop it and highlight the passages I'm interested in;
- Facebook for Android lets me publish photos directly from my mobile. I set the album properties to 100% public, so anyone can view them;
- Prior to becoming an Android owner, I took photos with a digital camera and edited them with GIMP or Paint.NET, depending on which computer was closer to me. This is very flexible, but it cannot be done "on the fly" (i.e. while I read), thus some photos were not posted because they got "lost in space". Doing everything on the mobile phone makes the process much smoother and "lazy-proof".
Here's a list of books that have been distilled so far:
- Punished by rewards by Alfie Kohn - a book about motivation and rewards in schools, at work or at home. As the title says, rewards are actually punishments, they can seriously undermine one's performance; this applies to children and adults. The book mentions a lot of experiments, there is plenty of evidence.
- The most human human by Brian Christian - you think you think? Think again! The author analyzes different aspects of the Turing test and delves into many related fields. The book has a lot of interesting examples, excerpts from Turing test conversations, references to historical events and old philosophers. There are plenty of jokes too.
- Intimate relationships and A general theory of love - two books focused on human relationships: mother-child, romantic relationships, friendship, sexuality. This is a scientific book, with charts and references to statistical data.
All new books will be added to the "book distillery" section of this site. I will be very happy to extend this list with your contributions, please keep in mind that:
- the photos must be public, you can post them anywhere, as long as anyone can view them without having to sign up;
- the photos must be of a decent quality, the text must be sharp and readable.