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Keep up with your reading using free tools

Hacking

December 29, 2009 02:14 PM PST

These days there's far too much to read and not enough time to read it. I'll show you a couple ways to keep up with your reading using some free tools that are readily available.

Here's a typical scenario: you're reading an article on the web and find a link to something else very interesting, so you open it in a new tab to read later. You keep going on like this and by the end of the day you have 20 tabs open. And this is just one machine, many of us use multiple computers as well as smart phones. How can you keep up with all this reading? The best trick that I found so far is to be able to push this reading into any 'free' time that I have scattered throughout my day. For example, when I'm waiting in lines, or waiting for meals, or people. I can also find time during ads or previews etc. During most of this time I'm not in front of my computer however, so the old 'tab' trick just won't cut it. My other favorite 'free' time however is while driving. I currently have quite a long commute, over 45 minutes each way. If you are creative you can use both of these types of idle time to conquer you reading list.

The first free tool is Evernote. I'm a big fan of Evernote, and talk about it often. I use it to organize and simplify many aspects of my life. In this case I'll show you how to capture up all those articles and bits of text that you want to get around to reading someday. As a side effect of using Evernote to queue up text to read, you will also have a permanent copy that you can keep around for reference forever.

The first thing you need to do is get yourself an Evernote account if you don't already have one. It's free. For optimal use you should download a client as well (also free). Evernote is available for Mac or PC. It is also available for all major smart phones such as Windows mobile, iPhone, Android, Palm Pre and Blackberry. Next you need to install a web clipper into your favorite browser. This is done automatically for Internet Explorer on Windows and Safari on Mac when you install the native clients. For Firefox and Chrome there are extensions you can download. For other browsers you can use a bookmarklet. With a little work and some googling you can even get the bookmarklet installed on the iPhone's browser.

Now when you've got an article open that you like to read later just use the web clipper or bookmarklet to send it to Evernote. The best way that I found is to select the just the text of the article first and then click the bookmarklet. This copies the just the text and also creates a link to the original article. The trick here able to easily find these articles later so you can read them, to do this I mark them with a custom tag called 'ToRead'. Now when ever you have a spare moment you can pull an article out from any machine or device that you a have Evernote installed on, in my case I've always got my iPhone with me. You can even use any computer with internet access by using the web client. In Evernote just sort on the 'ToRead' tag and all your queued articles are right there. When you are done reading an article, just remove the 'ToRead' tag to take it off the list and mark it as 'read'. I usually then tag the article in some other way so that I can retain it for future reference.

The next method I use for keeping up on my reading is by converting them from text from text to speech using various tools. This allows me to make good use of my commute time by listening to articles. I have a really good pay tool that I use on Windows produce high-quality MP3s, but there are also many free solutions available. One of these is a website called Yakitome.com. This website lets you convert text to speech for your own personal listening. The speech can be streamed directly from the website or downloaded as an MP3 file. They also give you an RSS feed you can use like your own personal Podcast. Yakitome uses the same AT&T human recorded voices that I use in my commercial program, however, they are of a lower bit rate to increase the file compression. The big benefit to using Yakitome however is that there is nothing to install, all the conversion work is done on their servers.

I have found that I can go to the website from the iPhone browser and directly to the iPhone over 3G. While this works, it is not very efficient as the site is not optimized for the small screen. It would be nearly impossible to navigate while driving and I wouldn't recommend it. Instead I would just save the MP3 and sync it to your device of choice for listening in the car.

To capture articles to listen to you first need to setup a free account. After that you cut and past the text and give it a title, then choose your desired voice and speed and click 'convert'. The site will then queue the article for conversion and give you an estimated time when it will be done. You can queue up multiple articles at a time.

I don't like the hassle of manually dragging the files into iTunes and connecting my iPhone up via cable so I use a shortcut here based on another free tool; DropBox. What I do is I save all of the converted MP3s into a folder in my dropbox account called 'audio'. Once synced I am able to access those files from any computer I have as well as from my iPhone 3GS while driving. The files stream just fine over 3G, and the app's interface is easy to use on the iPhone. After I listen to and article I delete the file. Using this method I always a a list of articles to 'listen to' no matter where I am.


Comments (1)
J, January 3, 2010 12:53 AM:

"You keep going on like this and by the end of the day you have 20 tabs open." MADNESS! Who would do such a thing?






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