My working system…currently

Had a computer disaster last week. No data lost, but not sure if I am going to be working on my Windows laptop any more (passed down from my mom, not exactly a new piece of tech). So, I’ve set up my old desktop PC again (purchased in 2012 but not used much at all in the last five years or so) and installed Fedora LXDE. Back in the day, I used Linux almost exclusively (I don’t tinker with cars but with computers, and I’m also not very good at it), so it is fun—albeit a bit distracting unfortunately!—to get back into it. I’m back in business now, and part of the major effort to get running again was not only to transfer all my files and get software running, but to recreate my working system for dissertation writing and academic work in general. Thought I would describe it here (and stop narrating the process of getting it running: just talk about what it is). What this is, is an overview of a working system, as well as a lesson in trying to be focused on getting something up and running so you don’t loose too much momentum:

For writing. LibreOffice. I used to use Word. Years ago, I use to write in LaTeX (usually using Lyx), but I was never able to get bibliography stuff integrated too well (see below). Hebrew looks beautiful, but there is not a lot of support of hieroglyphics, and newever versions of LaTeX (esp. XeTeX) include much better Unicode support compared to when I first used it, which means it will work great for what I do, but I need the time to learn it. I’ve decided that this will be a post-PhD endeavor. I believe I had my entire (first) MA thesis (written 2009-2011) written in LaTeX/Lyx, but at the last minute translated it into OpenOffice. It was on Gen 1-3, written for a theology program where I took a major interest in Hebrew Bible towards the end. I wrote about how the two creation stories use ארץ/אדמה differently, and I came up with the idea that, while Gen 1:1-2:4a views humanity’s relationship to the earth as ארץ from a species-wide, historical perspective (as master of the earth), Gen 2:4b-3 views it from within the limit of a human lifetime (אדם/אדמה). Back then, I presumed historical criticism and also thought “final form reading” was the ultimate goal: I wanted to understand Genesis (well, Gen 1-3…I wish I would have continued to ch 4!) as a work of literature. Knowing what I know now, etc. etc. Anyway, I wrote that in Lyx/OpenOffice. Now, I’m trying to get my dissertation files working on LibreOffice (OpenOffice is dead). I also have two children and have moved about 12 times since I wrote about Genesis.

How do I write? It’s hard. Usually I have a doc open that contains notes and “scraps” that get moved into the main document, the “DISSERTATION” file. There is a lot of back and forth. Things I write in the main doc (on the right part of my screen) usually end up in the scrap pile (left part) and re-emerge, transformed, onto the other side at a later point. I’m trying to streamline this. In addition to the on-screen writing, I work with lots of paper notes, sticky notes, pieces of paper, etc. Bar napkins. Tried to find a way to write notes on the computer, but I usually do that by hand.

For bibliography. In the previous era (i.e. before last Wednesday), I had a version of Endnote I bought through the student software deal at U of C, and had it integrated to Word. It was great. I tried to replicate that with Mendeley, then with JabRef through LibreOffice, but it isn’t working. So, I’m back to doing it all manually, which is how I’ve almost always done it. You have to fix most of the metadata you download from library sites or JSTOR anyway. So, currently I have a “BIBLIOGRAPHY_NEW.odt” to be kept distinct from “BIBLIOGRAPHY.docx,” which I was using as my master diss. bibliography until the Endnote era (about two months ago). I created BIBLIOGRAPHY_NEW by outputting my Endnote bib into a plain text bibliography doc in Chicago style (using a virtually emulated Windows machine on a Dell laptop that I was lent when teaching at UNCA…still holding on to it, which wouldn’t run Windows because I needed to be in the UNCA network, so I had to dual boot it with Linux…to get Endnote to run, on a Windows emulation, to recover my bibliography…I’ve lost track of this sentence and am just going to move on).

So now: I cite using author date (or else the footnotes will always be 2/3rds the size of the page), and write the entry in the BIBLIOGRAPHY_NEW. I like doing it this way. I get familiar with the names, and I get better at using my German keyboard layout for typing things like Altägyptische.

In search for: a way to create reading lists as well as mini bibliographies for further use. I started using Endnote for this, but I need something else, and I didn’t really like that.

For notes. I have used a program called KeepNote, which is a stripped down version of something like Evernote, since 2013 or so, but I’ve just fallen out of the habit of taking notes on the computer. I need a break from it. So, I use notebooks, margins, and sticky notes.

For outlines. I have been experimenting with mind mapping software, where you literally plug your skull into your USB 3 port and it outputs your thoughts in rough plaintext, and all you have to do it shape it up into your favorite format and/or genre convention. Additionally, I’ve been using so-called “mind mapping” software to outline dissertation chapters and big ideas, going back and forth between FreeMind and XMind. I really like this, and I think it will be a big part of my working system. Since I am trying to finish a chapter, and not doing much big picture stuff, I’m mostly just working in the L-R document setup described above.

PDFs. I had to stop subscribing to Adobe. It was great having the full version of Acrobat (I was OCRing everything!), but it just got too expensive. Linux doesn’t have any good PDF viewers, and I’ve tried many. I’m not big on highlighting and commenting PDFs (though that should probably change). I’m using something called qpdfview, and it seems to work just fine.

The real problem is what to do with my ca. 100 GBs of PDFs. Every now and then I try to organize them manually (at least ones that I’ve downloaded or scanned recently). For the most part they are preserved in legacy folders from the people I got them from (let me know if you need PDFs…I have lots). Linux has a pretty quick ability to search folders, so that’s what I do: just search for the name. For current project/topics/chapters, I have desktop folders with relevant PDFs.

My actual desk. Revamping my PC setup, and waiting for 100’s of GBs of files to transfer, gave me time to revamp my actual desk. Sharing some pictures of them as is. Trying to keep stacks of books of the work surface and use tables (seen at R) for books I’m using a lot for short periods, and ref. works to left of desk that are used constantly.

I need to get back to work! Before I go, what is happening?

  1. Hopefully will finish my chapter on the Demotic novella I’ve been working on since basically last January, by the end of the month.
  2. Looking for adjunct jobs for next year I guess? Not sure if I’ll be able to teach online for UNC Asheville.
  3. Recording a talk for the Oriental Institute on epics in the ancient Middle East (more info TBA)
  4. Participating in the Early Text Cultures reading group/project at Oxford, presenting some of my work on evidence of oral transmission (or really, aspects of the transmission) of the novella mentioned in #1

Thanks for reading. -JC

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