Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Shitty academic software  §

Okay, coders who are also academics, I’m giving you a gold mine here. There is not a single academic reference database out there that doesn’t completely suck.

I’m serious. There is a huge opportunity here for something that:

– Is a database
– Stores PDFs and imports citation information from major data stores
– Supports categories, tags, and smart groups
– Supports reading, highlighting, and annotating in-flow
– Enables citation and bibliography building using common styles
– Synchronizes to platform clients (Mac, PC, iOS, Android)
– Has a robust but easy to use query UI (click-based)
– Doesn’t crash all the time
– Obeys the basic UI guidelines for each platform

This isn’t a totally trivial task, but it’s also not rocket science. Really, it isn’t. It would appear that the academic reference managers that are out there were written by monkeys.

— § —

I have Sente and use it. It sucks. I hate it. It is unpredictable, has a million billion field-creation features, but basically no query UI at all (you can tag, flag, keyword, categorize, group, etc., but once you apply these to records, you can’t actually do much with them, not even a simple two-factor search or exclude, without building out smart groups as your ad-hoc search, then performing your task within the group, then deleting the group again). It is not robust. Its annotation features are broken (no way to get notes and highlights out of the UI as plain text; no way to note and highlight in-flow, or even keyword in-flow).

I have also tried Papers. I couldn’t keep it running through more than a couple of operations at a time.

The open source and classic stuff (Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, etc.) all have limitations that make them non-starters, plus tend toward being ungainly and unusable and overly clicky/wordy.

Evernote just isn’t suited for the task; it’s the wrong tool and it does no citation/referencing. Pointless. DevonThink is entirely overkill for a simple task like this, plus it does not citation/referencing.

The iPad readers, where they exist, are slow, broken, and crap compared to common iPad PDF reader/annotater programs that, sadly, don’t integrate with any academic software or workflow.

In short, the field is wide open.

Won’t someone solve this problem so that we academics can stop futzing about with this crap for hours?

When I get the dissertation written and get settled into a career, a few years down the road, if nobody else has yet solved this problem, by god I’ll solve it with my own code.

— § —

A word to the wise on “taking a break,” whether as a leisure matter or as a prioritization result, from writing/working on your dissertation:

– Take a week, lose a month
– Take a month, lose a year
– Take a year, go back to school and start all over

In short, you have to work on it every . single . day or there’s no point spending any time on it at all.