Thursday, December 6, 2012

Evaluating content storage software

Big decision to be made today. Again I need to improve my workflow!

I'm a sucker for doing things the digital way. I used to keep large file cabinets storing my material and personal "archive," but I've realized quite throughly that this kind of system is for people keeping a permanent position (and permanent office) only. My neatly organized computer history archive from a few years back is of no use to me now. It's stored in boxes some 2000 kilometers away from my present place of being, and I can't access it. The same goes for other projects I've finished, but never really managed to put behind.

In my current project the stack of both digital and physical sources are starting to overflow. I need a way to get both sources and research notes on my material stored in a neat and retrievable way. "Content storage software"is the key. Previously I have experience with EndNote, Evernote and DevonThink. As of today, I store all my files in Dropbox (premium - with backup!!!), but they are just files in folders. I need a system to get them organized, annotated and tag'ed.

First I have to state that this is not an attempt at trying to figure out what is the best software. There is not one best, just the best for my use. My needs are not necessarily your needs. And most certainly - the needs anticipated by the software companies are not really so often my needs. The key is finding something that improves the workflow. Using an hour to find a specific document is no good when being in the writing process (as I experienced yesterday).

And secondly. I don't want to get just a cool app. It needs to be something that I can use for several  of my activities, so I don't have to use one app for each type of use.

First - some words on what I know


EndNote is my everyday very good friend. It stores pdf's of all the articles I'm reading. It keeps track of my bookshelf, and it syncs neatly with library databases like I sure with for a way to automatically transfer both citation data and pdf directly to EndNote from for instance JSTOR, but for now it works. And of course, the cite while you write function is a dream compared to "hard programming" references. The key is to clean up every record as you add them, to avoid having to do the dirty work when finishing off the references of a text.

And on the good side - it will probably sick around for ever. It's owned by Thompson Reuters, and is likely to get keep up (or at least only slightly behind) technological development.

And the cost ($300!!!)... is covered by my university's great software service!

But EndNote is not for everything. Back in the day, I tried using it for primary source material like letters and newspaper articles, but that ended up as just a big mess. The database got too big, and the number of items that "didn't fit" got the overhand. I also gave up using it for taking research notes. The notes file in the record is good for short comments, but not for longer texts. My note taking from let's say a 800 page book can't be managed by a single field with no possibilities for formatting.


When I expelled primary source material from EndNote I put it in DevonThink. I liked this program, but it has one serious disadvantage: It's Mac only. My office computer is a PC.  But it keeps soundfiles, word-documents, web-documents, pdfs and so on, neatly tagged and organized. It can even split the content into several databases. A huge advantage for organizing large quantities of material from different projects. But no. Can't work with things that are Mac only.


Evernote is my second everyday good friend. Here I keep my daily log, note taking from reading, transcribed interviews and so on. Basically everything which is text-based goes in here. And it syncs beautifully! But so far I've been reluctant to put in things with images, since I'm syncing to my iPad and Android phone and thus wants to keep things light.

I miss some features though from DevonThink: The inbox (I had to make my own). The unlimited nesting of "notebook stacks" (to use Evernote terminology). The ability to edit word documents. The rather seamless storing and quick viewing of many different types of documents.

There is another major disadvantage - I can only upload 1 GB pr. month, even with the premium account. That basically cuts me off from using it to organize my rather big collection of documents and newspaper articles. Some of these are scans. Others are photos. A few are web clips. Current size of the material is somewhat 50GB and it is growing every day.

But it is a cool program, and that's important. It gets fresh new updates. It has a huge user base, so it will probably keep up with the technological development. Sticking with that is safer than with open source of single developer stuff that might get abandoned by their developers as enthusiasm

The ones I don't know yet


Prolution Six writes the following about his conversion (yes, this is a religious issue) from Evernote to Zotreo:
If you use a lot of PDFs, a lot of online databases, and do a lot of PDF annotation and other research on a single computer, Zotero is probably perfect for you 
This sounds interesting. But: I'm a bit reluctant to jump ship on non-commercial programs, since I need it to work in ten years time from now on platforms the world hasn't seen yet. Remember 2002? That was even two years before Facebook! But apart from that Zotero looks like a good program.

This quote from Wikipedia makes it look even more interesting:
On many websites such as library catalogs, PubMed, Google Scholar, Google Books,, Wikipedia, and publisher's websites, Zotero shows an icon when a book, article, or other resource is being viewed. By clicking this icon, the full reference information can be saved to the Zotero library. Zotero can also save a copy of the webpage, or, in the case of academic articles, a copy of the full text PDF. Users can then add notes, tags, attachments, and their own metadata. 
For now I'm not extracting that much information from the web - and if I occasionally do, I make a pdf of the webpage and import it in EndNote. But interesting, yes.

The turn-off: Only 6GB of storage costs $5 pr. month (!).


Papers looks like an interesting program. It is primarily developed for organizing and annotating pdf's, and the interface is looking like something in between DevonThink-style and EndNote-ish. It might be worth checking out.

Turn-off: Price $49


Mendeley is the cross-platform version of Papers, and I'm tempted. This video makes it look interesting, but how will this work for other things than .pdf's?

[video cut]
The cool thing is that it looks like it has to be either/or Mendeley or EndNote. The following quote from the discussion here adds to the temptation:
You can simply export your reference list from Mendeley to Endnote (you can also do it the other way around), and you are ready to go. No need to go fetching for the information once you already have it Mendeley. 

Pro: Big user group. Likely to stick around and develop way into the future.
Con: Only 1GB online storage

Conclusions? I think I will check out Mendeley first, and see how things work out. I might stick with Evernote, and try to work around the limited upload capacity. But I should decide soon. Migrating hundreds of records from one program to another is not a task I like to do too often.

First impression of Mendeley is great. Workflow is much more efficient than in EndNote, and the cite while you write functions seems good. All my newspaper articles will go in here. The only real bugger is that it's not particularly good to work with jpg's. I guess I will have to convert these into pdf's for better functionality.

I tried organizing my primary sources in Papers, but after testing a few items I found the workflow a bit heavy. I guess I will stick with Evernote for now. It's also good to keep down the number of programs I use.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to cite e-books?

Since I'm living in a different country that I work, I've ended up using lots and lots of time in airports and planes. As an effect of this I'm trying to get as much of my research material as possible in digital format. This also goes for books. The Kindle app is my new friend. It keeps my suitcase within cabin luggage limits.

Today I've encountered for the first time the problem of how to cite E-books in an academic text. E-books are still a fairly new technology, and they are treated by both publishers and many readers as "second grade" editions. I guess this will change with time, but for now we have to deal with inconveniences as the lack of proper page numbering, lack of stable "edition markers" and so on. And not to forget - tons of hyphenation errors, bad quality images and other oddities. This goes even for big publishers like Oxford University Press.

Anyways, the point is - how to cite? I found a fairly good introduction to the problem on the APA blog, and on Booksprung:

The first principle is of course - always always cite the edition that you are actually using. Don't try to be fancy cite original editions, first printings etc. If there are things to be commented, like "Cage published this text originally in 1939, but I'm quoting it from the 2011 edition of Silence," put that in a footnote. If you desperately want to cite the 1939 version, the least thing you have to do is to consult a pdf of the original article.

You need to clarify which edition of the text you are using, and where you got it from. For e-books you should cite like you do with websites. From what I get from the APA-blog, you can skip the retrieved date. The book might get updated anyway. The funny thing though is that APA wants us to include what "e-reader book type" is being used. This is to my knowledge unnecessary, since the file doesn't differ significantly from device to device. In my case the citation then looks something like this:
Taruskin, Richard (2010). Music in the late twentieth century. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Kindle edition, retrieved from 
It's a bit long, it doesn't take updates of the file into consideration, but I think it works.

So far, so good. Then comes the problem with page-numbers. As I see it, there are three possible strategies:

  • Use the e-book location number. The location number is static, and does not differ from device to device (I read my books both on my Samsung phone and my iPad) or with the size of text. But it is not giving any indication to what page this is in the printed version of the book, so if the reader wants to trace the paragraph you are citing s/he will then need to get the kindle edition of the book. APA actually warns us against using location numbers, stating that:
"Kindle "location numbers," however, should not be used in citations because they have limited retrievability"
  • Name the major sections (i.e.: "Chapter 1, Section 2, para. 5"). This is actually recommended by APA. The problem is of course that citing then gets time consuming, and that the citations get crumbsome. And what then about long chapters with no sections? "Chapter 2, para. 455" is not very helpful.
  • Find the page-number in the printed version by checking in the previews on Amazon or Google books. This is definitely possible, but also makes citing time consuming and it goes against the first principle mentioned over, that you should always cite the source that you actually use. 
None of this is really sufficient, and I'm starting to suspect that I wasted an hour of my workday trying to figure this out instead on writing on my text. 
Supposedly Kindle has recently come up with "real" page numbers in newer books, but so far I haven't seen this in use. 

Any comments and insights on the matter will be appreciated. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Riff structure in Emperors Nightside Eclipse

Yesterday I had a bit of private fun on the plane while flying back to Norway. I was listening to Emperors old classic In The Nightside Eclipse from 1993 while preparing for a lecture on 20th century music. I was for a moment concerning using some of the songs on the album as examples of how to analyze contemporary music, and I did a quick formal analysis of a couple of the tracks.

Inno A Satana, an old favorite, is using the following schema

Short drum intro
tema 1, 1, 1, 1
A (”Verse”)
tema 2, 2, 3
tema 2, 2, 3
tema 4, 4, 4*
tema 4**, 4**, 4**    
A (”Verse”)
tema 2, 2, 3
tema 2, 2, 3
tema 5, (bridge), 5, 5
tema 5, 5, 5

* = Alterated or expanded

Cosmic Keys To My Creation and Times

Intro  (Tonal centre: A)
tema 1, 1 (without band)
tema 1, 1 (with band)
tema 1, 1

A (”Verse”)
tema 2, 2, 2*, 2*   - tonal centre: E
tema 3, 3, 3, 3 (vocals)   - tonal centre: A
tema 2, 2, 2, 2   - tonal centre: E
tema 3, 3, 3, 3 (vocals) - tonal centre: A

B (Tonal centre H)
tema 4, 4, 4, 5
tema 4, 4, 4, 5
tema 4, 4, 4, 5 (vocals)
tema 4, 4, 4, 5

C (Tonal centre H & G)
tema 6, 6, 6*, 6*
tema 6, 6, 6, 6 (vocals)

A’ (”Verse”)
tema  2, 2
tema 3, 3, 3, 3 (vocals)
tema 2, 2 (vocals)

Short "bridge"
tema 6, 6, 6*, 6*
tema 6, 6, 6, 6 (whispering vocals)

D  (tonal centre F#, modulates to E)
tema 7 (bridge)
tema 8, 8, 8, 9
modulated tema 8, 8, 8, 9 (vocals)
original tema 8, 8, 8, 9 (vocals)
modulated tema 8, 8, 8, 9*  (vocals)


* = Alterated or expanded

We note that there is no need in this music to "conclude" in musical statements that are recollections of the statements made in the introductions. Cosmic Keys... even ends in a different key that it started out.  This "open" form is quite distinct from the regular pop music schema. The large number of melodic statements ("riffs") is also interesting - in Cosmic Keys... there are as many as 9 distinguishable musical ideas in one composition - quite remarkable in the popular music domain.

The point of discussion for the lecture would have been - what do we say about this music when analyzing it in this way? And what do we omit? What are the interesting analytical points when approaching music? What does classic harmonic and formal analysis offer us?

Here is the music

Cosmic Keys To My Creation And Times
Inno A Satana

Feel free to comment (or correct)

By the way - I ended up using Beethovens 5th symphony as example instead, and for completely different points.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spotify-list: Griffiths Modern Music and After (part 1)

I'm using Paul Griffiths comprehensive but still concise overview of the history of modern western art music after 1945, Modern Music and After, in one of my courses. This spotify-list is a collection of some of the central works he is discussing. It doesn't include every piece, but it should at least contain one example from every composer mentioned (if available on Spotify).

Spotify link to Griffiths Modern Music and After (part 1)

Spotify link to Griffiths Modern Music and After (part 2)