Friday, February 16, 2007

If I were starting seminary all over again...

There are three technology tools that I would want to have from the start:
  • An Apple Macintosh laptop.  I know, this sounds cultish-- and frankly, I'm an unabashed Apple supporter and evangelist-- but you can't beat the quality of the hardware, and it doesn't hurt that I don't have to worry about viruses or other malware anymore.  Plus, the next key tool is platform-dependent, and is only for Apple's Mac OS X 10.3 or higher.
  • Devon Technologies' DevonThink Pro Office.  DevonThink is an amazing "free-form database" which means that it isn't confined to the structured data collection that other databases have.  Instead, you can import a hoard of file types into DevonThink, and they are indexed and stored according to your organizational method.  The search technology within it is based on a sort of artificial intelligence, so it "learns" by association what words and phrases are related to what.  Thus, it becomes a powerful tool for research and writing, as it can house lots of documents and cross-reference them on the fly.  There are three versions of DevonThink: Personal, Pro, and Pro Office.  You should get Pro Office, because you will also want...
  • The Fujitsu ScanSnap S500m document scanner.  This is the Mac version of Fujitsu's great scanner.  This scanner can hold up to 50 pages at once, and it sheet-feeds them through a document scanner that can handle duplex (two-sided) scanning.  It is bundled with a lot of great software, including Adobe Acrobat, and therefore can scan lots of pages then convert them immediately into searchable PDFs or RTFs.  This is important, because you can use DevonThink Pro Office to import these directly into the database, where they are indexed and added to your archives.
If I had been in possession of these tools when I began seminary, it would have saved me hours-- even days-- of research work, and my papers would have been better.  I would have gotten as many full-text online versions of articles as the ATLA database offered (relevant to my current topics) and imported them directly, rather than printing them out.  And the ones I printed would have gone straight into the ScanSnap to be added to the rest.  I would have scanned the indices of all of my textbooks (and a bunch of other books) to make it easy to find references within books. And I would have all of the syllabi, class handouts, and reading packets scanned into my DevonThink database.

The end result of this would have been a research database that was incrementally constructed (so it wouldn't consume days to put together, as it is doing now!), but that would have returned more accurate results for relevant sources, and made extracting those results into papers more approachable.  And I would have had a tool that would last my whole ministry, only improving with age.

If you haven't guessed, I have all of these now.  We began switching back to Macs (my first computer was a Mac, so it was a switch back) in early 2004, and I got my first iBook that fall; I now have a MacBook that I love.  I've been using DevonThink for almost two years, and it is one of those things that stays open on my computer 90% of the time.  And my ScanSnap came via FedEx today-- I'm reviewing it for a magazine-- and it has already scanned about 600 pages of documents.  I'm hopeful to eliminate an entire filing cabinet before we move.

If you are serious about writing good research papers during seminary-- and continuing with good research after-- then these tools will pay for themselves 10 times over in the hours they will save you. 

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1 comment:

Marcie said...

I agree that the Scan Snap is a great tool. But, I don't think that if we were to go through seminary again I would be in favor of buying it. I think it is fairly cost prohibitive for a seminary family. I wonder if a couple of families could go in together, split the cost, and share it. It wouldn't be as convenient, but it would be better than nothing.