Category Archives: Resources/Gadgetry

Resources for MS Excel

I love reading Alison Greene’s blog,  I feel that it gives such practical advice that’s good not just for the workplace, but for life in general.  She’s an intelligent woman and a straightforward writer; in short, she rocks!

Anyway the format of her blog is that she posts a question a reader poses, answers it, and then opens it up for discussion in her comments.  Today, I read a post that asked how to improve MS Excel skills, and Alison opened it up for the readers to answer.  There were many resources and rather than adding them to my “Favorites”– something I NEVER open– I’m going to just compile all the sites in a list (I love lists) and share them with you too.

Some other advice people gave was to figure out the basics and do mini projects on your own, or figure out what skills you need for your future job and just focus on those.  I just enjoy Excel, in general, (I take all my notes through it), but I think those are also good ideas.


Always learning

My friend Eunice and I had a coffee date last week.  She’s one of those people I met and knew by name and face in college, but didn’t really get to connect with until after college.  It’s interesting to see how relationships evolve. Especially since many of the relationships forged in college feel substantial — the idea that they may change seems improbable at the time.  Anyway, it’s sweet.

We discussed her future plans and my future plans.  We were talking about practical classes I might need to take and Eunice mentioned that MIT was offering free online classes for possible certification.  I expressed my disbelief — surely they’re not offering free certification — and then we went on to talk about other ways to take classes.

Anyway, I looked into it and yes, MIT is launching an online learning initiative: MITx.  It offers a variety of courses and the learning tools will be freely available. Certification or credentials may be available for extra fees though.  Anyway, it looks pretty cool and it’s launching in 2012. FAQs here!

I probably won’t delve into that, but it did make me think about other free resources to stay learning.  Most likely next year I’ll be taking finance classes at a community college in order to have a better handle on starting the Mind Garden. And hopefully, for the rest of my life, I’ll have formal and informal opportunities to learn.

With that in mind, below are a wide variety of ways to take courses and learn for free!


When I read, I cognitively map.

I have some sad news for that little person inside me who was doing everything she could to find an excuse to purchase a Kindle.

According to a recent study done by the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, e-readers are better as supplementary devices since most of them don’t work well with the human brain.

A breakdown of the problem is as follows:

  • poor note-taking support
  • limited/cumbersome skimming capabilities
  • more difficult to look up references
  • digital text disrupts cognitive mapping

For some of you, this may not be an issue, but for me, this is a huge issue.  One of the main drawbacks of an e-reader for me was the fact that I would not be able to annotate by hand.  Mind you, I’m the girl who purchased a smaller laptop to “study better by saving trees and taking notes in class” who ended up printing out a gazillion pdfs (to be fair, I put 4 sheets a page, front and back.  I think I killed my eyes though) and taking notes longhand anyway.  So yeah, I guess one study confirms that this is indeed a bit bothersome.  Yet, I thought maybe this was an obstacle I could overcome – just like the way I would overcome the way the Kindle’s digital page peskily blinks every time it “turns”.  (A coworker assured me that I would get used to it in no time)!

But, the main issue lies with the function of cognitive mapping.
The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.
Yes, this is a problem for me.  I know when I read, I need to stay on the same book.  For example, when I read the Bible, if it’s not one of my personal Bibles, I have a difficult time finding verses and references that I’ve known for ages.  I thought this was because I’m partly a “visual person” or maybe I just had some sort of a physical book fetish, but now, I see that the correct term is that I am a cognitive mapper (and so is the rest of the population).  Being able to relate information to physical cues help a lot.

There are still other reasons to purchase a Kindle though, mind you (recreational, mainly).  It’s just that the academic reason is now out the window.  Even if they add more interactive/multimedia content (which probably wouldn’t happen for a while), I’m sure the pen and paper wins.  (My current laptop has a touch screen+pen, and works relatively well; I use it only sometimes…)

Or perhaps, I’m expecting too much from the Kindle?  Why not use it with a supplementary notebook on hand?  It is still lighter, reduces waste paper use, and conveniently holds all my texts in one teeny location.  Plus, I could read the news and do crossword puzzles!  Okay, this last bit doesn’t really add to this conversation now, does it?

Oh Kindle, when do you plan on becoming free?

So my quest for an e-reader continues.  I actually had the opportunity to buy a simple B&N Nook today, but my dad told me go for the Kindle, since you can’t read Amazon books on the Nook.  My elementary research corroborated his point.

Coinkidinkily, I also found out today (on the NYTimes) that Amazon is shaving off yet another $25 its lowest priced Kindle.  Yet on this “Kindle with Special Offers”, instead of screen savers and such, they’ll be placing ads.  Ads will also be on the main pages, but they will not actually affect the e-books themselves.  (How sucky would that be?  Imagine getting really engrossed in the climax of The Hound of the Baskervilles and having an ad for liposuction popping up on the next page!)  Anyway, all jesting aside, this sounds pretty good!  But only $25 off, Amazon?

Come on, when will you be free?  It’s been at least a year since such ideas were proposed!  Amazon should give away their Kindles to propel the sales of high-cost e-books!

The handheld razor is priced cheap—so they can sell you the high-profit blades. Many cell phones come free of charge, so long as you sign a two-year carrier contract. Amazon could do the same with the Kindle: Start a new book club, and give away the Kindle in exchange for buying a $20 book each month for two years. (Dennis Kneale, CNBC)

I’d totally do that.  I’ve been itching to buff up my book collection (ever since I went off to college, many of my classics have disappeared!), but I realized I don’t have space anymore…  Amazon, if you gave me a Kindle for free, I’d buy a lot of books!  Or, you could offer the Kindle for Amazon Prime users!  Oh!  You could even produce a Kindle Duo with books on one side and an LCD color monitor on the other side upon which I could watch the free movies that you stream for Prime users!  Amazon, what wonders you could open for this media-crazed society (of which I am a semi-reluctant member)!

The (E-nevitable) Quest for an E-Reader in Quasi-Vignettes

As of late, I have grown vehemently opposed to technology trends in society.  Although I acknowledge that one day, everyone will probably have some sort of smartphone device (with which the government can easily track us down) and paper will be an obsolete waste of the past, I prefer to not jump into the mad pursuit of gadgetry.

Reading with Meester, leopard gecko

There is something about holding a book.  A new book with the slight crackling sound when you turn its pages.  A familiar book where you can find your favorite passages.  A heavy book – one where no matter how you shift your body, you can’t read comfortably – is still comfortable (with stains from pressed flowers littering the middle passages).  A thin paperback that flops, almost forgotten, to the bottom of your purse.  Clumsy cursive names painstakingly inscribed by child-owners to hastily scrawled notes and exclamation marks of the older age.  Used books with their hints of a sordid path hidden in the creases and comments of their previous owners.  The smell.


My friend R's crazily annotated poem.

I like to be economical when I print out the reading assignments my teachers email me.
I like to print four pages per page, front to back printing or make the font super small with tiny margins.
I like to hold packets in my hand, highlight them with my hand, feel increasingly triumphant as I flip through each page (with my hand).
I like to organize my readings for the week and go to a cafe and leave the computer at home.
I like how after a semester I can cut out passages I particularly enjoyed and save them for a card or an aimless day.


Beach + Book = Bona Fide

Regardless of where I go, won’t I be reading a lot in graduate school?
So, should I get a kindle that’s light and white and limited?
Or do I drop money (that I don’t have) on a bright Ipad investment, that will most likely distract me rather than save me time?
What about a colorful Nook from the bookstore that colors the reading exploits of my past?
Can I still argue that the best e-reader is no e-reader at all, or is that idea hopelessly antiquated?


Glimpse of my first year of college (readings on paper, mango tango, makeshift bookcase, 1st gen Razr, (my first) large laptop, old headphones, highlight by hand).



Weak-End Wisdom #3: Smart Vocabulary Cards Work Too!

I have a few friends who love to discuss efficiency and studying tactics.  Through them, I came across a few useful blogs and resources, but my favorite one by far is Anki – “friendly, intelligent flashcards”!

When I was teaching in Taipei, I realized that I wanted to attend grad school, but had difficult finding the time to study my GRE vocab (for the upcoming GRE in Thailand … yes, I had to go on a whirlwind trip to Thailand to take my GREs).

Anki to the rescue!  In its own words,

“Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. Because it is a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying, or greatly increase the amount you learn.”

Basically, these flashcards work by displaying each card based on your personal assessment of whether the information was Easy, Good, Hard, or Again.  Depending on your choice, the card will pop back up after a certain amount of days or at the end of your stack (depending on your options).  You study for 15-20 minutes a day (although you can adjust it for longer) and at the end of each session, Anki provides you with a nice summary of various stats that could be useful.

Furthermore, popular flashcard topics (like GRE Verbal Vocabulary) already exist, so all you have to do is download one that a previous user created!  So much better than writing in 2,500 words by yourself, right?

Lastly, Anki also works with many smartphone platforms and it’s free!

Personally, I never got past the first couple hundred words and wasn’t very diligent with studying.  I tried out Anki and I tried (another memory device, which I felt was useful, but was definitely slower since there were mandatory games and such).  Both were helpful in different ways but I love Anki because I think it is both effective and encouraging in its design.

To learn more / download, go to!