Alfred is like Spotlight on steroids. Its an application launcher, an emailer, an iTunes controller, a weather report, a search tool, and much more. It has a free version, and a paid version that allows for extra customization.
The basic idea behind Alfred is simple: you type words into Alfred, and Alfred -- like a butler -- does what you want. But Alfred is a good butler, so it also anticipates what you want, after a short period of getting to know you. Alfred saves lots of time. For example
1. to open Scrivener, I don't use my mouse to navigate to the Applications folder or the dock. Instead, I hit cmd+space (which opens Alfred), then start typing "scrivener." By the time I hit "s", Alfred already knows that I'm looking for Scrivener. It knows this because it pays attention to me, and it knows that when I start a word with "s", I'm probably looking for Scrivener. Alfred therefore suggests Scrivener to me. I ok the suggestion by pressing enter, and Scrivener opens. That's it. Four keystrokes. Much faster than navigating with a mouse.
2. To send an email to person X, I hit cmd+space, then type "email" and the beginning of X's name. Alfred automatically matches the person to my contacts and retrieves the appropriate email address. It usually does this with only 2 characters of the person's name. I ok Alfred's suggestion and it open up my email program and creates an appropriately addressed email. [Compare with: opening the email program, pressing the 'new email' button, clicking onto the address field, filling it, etc.]
3. To search the web, I press "g" followed by the search. Alfred opens my browser and searches google.
4. I've been working on the same paper for a while, it's called "Newton's Rules". I open it almost every day. Opening it without Alfred would be a pain. I would need to open Finder, then navigate about 4 levels deep to get to the place where its properly filed. Then I would double click. With Alfred, I hit cmd+space, then "ru", then enter. Because I use the file frequently, Alfred knows by the first two letters of "rules" that I'm looking for the file called "Newton's Rules." It opens it. 4 keystrokes. [Notice that the match is on the second word of the file nae, not just the first.]
Alfred also has a variety of features that don't involve opening application or carrying out a series of steps within them. For example, Alfred remembers your clipboard history. What was that quote I clipped 3 minutes ago? I press cmd+opt+c, and I get a list of all my clips. I can turn any of these into 'snippets', which are permanently available clips. For example, the citation for Newton's Principia is a snippet for me, since I use it all the time. Check it out. More cool things to follow.
Bibliographies for small projects are easy. For large projects (e.g., a dissertation) they are complicated, time-consuming, or both. That's why you should use a bibliography manager.
There are several very good bib-managers out there. Zotero is free, flexible, and has really great features; Papers is swanky looking, and I'll discuss BibDesk below. Just stay away from EndNote.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my favorite feature of Scrivener is the ability to differentiate the text the author sees from the text a reader sees. In that post, I described how to separate the two using the "Compile" mechanism, which allows you to control how entire subdocuments appear.
Today I want to go over the feature of Scrivener I use most frequently. It is the ability to separate author's text from reader's text on a sentence-by-sentence level. As before, it is best to follow along in the sample document included here.
One of the greatest benefits of Scrivener is the ability differentiate text the author sees from text the reader sees. In programs like Word and Pages, this can only be done by using the "comments" mechanism. Comments, however, can only naturally handle a subset of the kinds of texts an author may wish to hide, as discussed here. Scrivener is more sophisticated, without being more complicated.
There are several ways to distinguish Author's Text from Reader's Text in Scrivener. I'll begin with the least fine-grained way.
Scrivener --> Compile Action and Options.
In Scrivener, what the reader ultimately sees is the result of Compile command. This command filters the author's text in a variety of ways and set the output format.
There's too much going on... but not right now.
Scrivener is worth every penny. In fact, it's the only piece of software I recommend students buy. Everything else can be done open-source. For this post, I'll merely list why I use Scrivener, and leave more detailed instructions for later posts.
Some scholars have a "system" they use to keep track of research, writing, feedback, revisions, etc. Students can spend years figuring out what a good "system" is, partly because scholars are bad at sharing, After some conversation with students, I decided to devote some posts to my "system." I recommend cherry-picking parts that make sense to you.