How I like to Study


After taking a 4 year break from studying, I decided to ease myself in gently by studying a subject with which I was already fairly familiar. I opted to go for Galaxies, Stars and Planets, a short course with the Open University that has helped me formalise many of the concepts I have learned through being a member of The York Astronomical Society.


My location of choice is the JB Morrell Library at the University of York. I’ve frequented the library since I worked at the Science Park in 2008. Back then, I was studying mathematics and I loved how studious the atmosphere was. Since then, the library has been refurbished making it even easier to get access to things like power sockets.


I do actually have a favourite spot on the second floor which has a nice view and isn’t very far away from the toilets and recycling facilities. There is also a chilled water fountain nearby – but if water isn’t strong enough the Café is just downstairs. (Which is great for my Fitbit floors goal!)

The Morrell Library is located on the Heslington West campus. It is only a short walk to get to the largest plastic bottomed lake in Europe (fans of QI will understand the reference). I have found that it is a lovely place to walk around, and it gives me some exercise and fresh air when taking a break from studying.



The course I’m currently studying centres around one key text book, which is supplied to me as part of the material sent by The Open University. It’s also available online in PDF and epub formats. The latter of which can be used (via conversion) with the Kindle.


My Kindle has been the main way I have read the study material while working on the course, and it’s obviously a lot easier to carry than the larger study book. I also keep a copy of the PDF versions on my Surface Pro 2 just in case I need to look at the diagrams in colour.

The Surface Pro is also great for the online elements, including watching videos provided by the Open University, which accompany the course.


I decided to use a Moleskine notebook to work through the activities and make notes. It actually ended up being larger than I needed, so I think the type of notebook I use will be something I look into changing, for the next course.

Because all the equipment I use is so small, everything fits in my Knomo bag without any problems. In previous years I had been carrying around a large backpack which contained more books, a larger computer and a calculator or two. Keeping things light and simple means I have less to carry with me when I study, helping make the whole experience more enjoyable.


Software and Services

When I started the course back in May, I set about doing a lot of the meta-work up front. This meant that I could just rely on these things moving forward.

  1. I downloaded all the images, videos, and other materials from the OU website and put them on my OneDrive, setting them to always be available offline on my Surface Pro
  2. I made a list of all the work that would be required in the study plan and put it all into OneNote as a task list
  3. I put the milestones and study dates for the whole course into my Outlook calendar
  4. I set up the Aladdin Sky Atlas software using IKVM.NET on my Surface, so that I didn’t need Java
  5. I converted the study book from epub into the Kindle format, and stored PDF versions for the Surface

When actually working on the activities and reading the material, I’ve also used Windows Calculator, Bing Wikipedia, Periodic Table and Star Chart. These applications have helped me do mathematics, look up further reading, and – very importantly – visualise the solar system using 3D graphics.



The extra programs that the Surface Pro provided where not required for the course, but certainly helped.


I decided that I only wanted to study at my study location, which means I go there once a week, every week and make no compromises about that. If a friend suggests doing something on one of these days, I’ve just had to be firm and say no.


But doing it this way has really suited me, as it gets me away from a home full of distractions and into a productive environment with other people wanting to get things done. The motivation of wanting to progress my work has been enough to keep me going.

I may have found it a lot easier on this course because it’s a subject I already understand more than the average person, so I’ll be really interested to see how well I fare when I pick a new subject next year.

While I’m not ruling out taking time off again, I’m certainly planning to continue my mindset of life-long learning for the foreseeable future. I’m sure the way I like to study will only improve over time.

What’s in your bag? 2014 Edition

In 2012 I did both what’s in your bag and what’s your every day carry posts, and this year I have decided to revisit both.

Also check out What’s your every day carry? 2014 Edition

What’s in your bag?

Unchanged since around 2008, I still carry my Tumi work backpack which I carry into the office every day. If you’re interested in what I carry with me when I’m not at work then have a look at my Knomo Kilkenny bag for Microsoft Surface.

Dell Laptop

My work laptop is a pretty powerful Dell M4600 with an Intel Core i7 processor and 8 gigs of RAM. I’ve had less problems with this machine than the old HP I used to use, so you won’t hear any complaints from me. Though I have had my eye on the newer Dell workstations that include up to 32 gigs of RAM. Yes please.

USB Stick and USB Cable

It’s a tradition of mine to get a new USB stick every time I change jobs. This one contains debuggers, software installers, eBooks, and backups of my scripts and utilities. I never use these USB sticks for personal information about me, my employer or my clients – it only has the software I need to get up and running.

I also carry a standard micro USB cable, because you never know when it’ll be handy for charging my phone.


I still carry two Moleskine notebooks, but these days I track a lot more work stuff in OneNote – so the black work notebook has become more of a check list for most important tasks with space for notes. I tend to use about two pages a week.

Keys and Pencil Case

I carry a couple of keys with me in my work bag, including ones I need while I’m in the office. I also carry a small pencil case which includes the following:

What’s in your bag?

What’s changed?

The biggest change is the computer, and thankfully I no longer carry my charging adapter with me all the time, as I have a docking station in the office. I keep a spare charger at home, and if I ever need to go see a client I can just take that with me. Thanks to my recently replaced battery, I actually have plenty of power to do email and other tasks when I get home without needing to plug in anyway.

The next biggest change is probably the lack of paper notes. I used to carry a MUJI document folder with various printed specifications and other helpful documents. These days I try to print out as little as possible – mostly for security reasons.

I don’t carry a mouse in my bag either, again this is because my docking station at work is already set up with my Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Mobile Mouse. I have a spare mouse at home, for if I need it.

Finally, the Zune HD has been retired – these days I listen to Xbox Music, and when I’m at work that means my Lumia 920 – which is part of my Every Day Carry.

What’s in your bag?

I’m a big fan of the what’s in your bag and what’s your every day carry style posts that have become an internet trend. People uniquely try to get just the right combination of things they need for their own personal tasks, and it’s super interesting to get an inside look into what they they find important.

I have a few bags, but the bag I carry around most of the time is actually my Tumi work backpack, which goes to and from Branded3 every day.

HP Laptop

My HP laptop for work. I just recently got this one to replace an HP G62 and it is a million times nicer to use. My biggest complaints about the G62 were related to screen resolution, stupid extra keys, and a funny touchpad. All of which are fixed.

I also have a SanDisk SD card plugged in all the time which I use for Windows Ready Boost. I’ve used this in desktop computers before, but this is the first time I’ve done it with a laptop.

Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse

I only just got this mouse, so I’ll be writing a review about it in the coming weeks. I tend to use mice in a bit of a strange way (at -90 degree angle to most people) and it works just fine for my needs.

When I’m in the office I pair this with my Natural Keyboard for epic coding.

Zune HD

I usually have my Zune with me at work for listening to music in the office through our speakers or using my earphones. As most people know, the Zune HD isn’t actually manufactured any more, but it still works with Zune Pass just as well as the day I got it.

Oh yea, and I keep it in an Apple iPod sock. Kinky right? The earphones I use are not pictured here, but I’ve included them in my every day carry post.

SanDisk 16GB USB Stick

This rather beat up looking USB stick where I keep a backup copy of all the scripts and tools I use, as well as installers for all the software I use.

I’ve always had a USB stick specifically for work stuff since I was at Sumo, and it’s a good habit to have as it ensures you’ve always got the stuff you need when something bad happens.

MUJI Document Folder and Notebooks

I’m always carrying some kind of documentation around, and it’s usually A4. Currently I’m using this folder from MUJI for these kinds of documents, and my two Moleskine notebooks for everything else.

Charging Cables, Keys and Pens

I always have charging cables for the laptop, the Zune and a Micro USB which I use for my phone and Kindle. Also keys are pretty important, and so are pens. Currently I’m carrying a Sharpie and a Style Fit Meister 3.

So yea, that’s everything. As usual I try to keep things as simple as possible, and this meets my needs completely.

Objects: My Notebooks

This is the third post in my Objects Series about how much I appreciate the possessions I have, and the choices I made when bringing them into my life.

Back in 2006 I was going through a time of searching for answers for life’s big questions. One of the things I wanted to do was to document my findings. Being the typical computer geek, I decided that the best thing to do would be to document everything on my computer. I started using OneNote to create a set of working documents which contained all these ideas and resources.

I found that keeping everything together was extremely useful, but using my Tablet PC to write ink notes was way to clumsy – imagine trying to use a loud, hot, folded up laptop when you’re in bed reading a book and making notes. I just wasn’t practical.

I went to WHSmith and picked up a cheap spiral bound notebook, and used a Uni-ball Eye pen (a favourite from my school days) to write down some of my thoughts. This was quite new to me, as I hadn’t really bothered writing large amounts of stuff down since I was at school about 7 years previous.

These early notebooks consisted of lists of things I wanted to do as well as thoughts and diagrams trying to understand various subjects I had found interesting. Plus a good measure of doodling. I found the exercise good, but the notebooks themselves were not very nice, and the ink was quite harsh for the paper. Some of the pages were removed when the notes were no longer important, meaning that the whole thing started to get thin very fast. I went through three of these notebooks fairly quickly.

At the start of 2007 I got myself my first Moleskine notebook. I started using a Pentel pencil (a favourite for many years – though now discontinued) and I started using Post-it notes for more ‘disposable’ items. Also in 2007 I started a new job, and got myself a larger squared notebook for that task. Both of which I used a lot, and I feel it really helped me get my thoughts together in relation to a number of projects both at work and at home.

Over the next few of years I also went through quite a few of soft-back Moleskine notebooks, each for a different project that I felt needed exploring on its own, as well as a one or two hard-backs per year.

As is usual with anything I do, I start to refine and simplify things after a while. In 2010 I decided to try something different, and reduced the number of notebooks I used down to the minimum.

  • Large Squared Notebook – for work
  • Pocket Weekly Diary – for managing tasks and events
  • Pocket Plain Notebook – for personal mind maps and notes

Most of the time I’d make notes using a Kuru-toga pencil, but thanks to my discovery of the amazing Jetstream series of pens, I actually started writing in my notebooks with ink again. Usually, I go for one of my favourite pens depending on what I’m doing, though I have been known to try a number of different pens!

This combination worked really well, and I did exactly the same thing in 2011, but in 2012 I’ve decided to try and reduce things even further, so this year I’m only going to be using two notebooks day-to-day.

  • Large Squared Notebook – for work
  • Large Weekly Dairy – for tasks, events, mind maps and notes

As is usually the case with things like this, when you look back retrospectively you wonder how you managed to do without something like externalising thoughts, and while I do believe having a fancy notebook and pen adds to the experience – I think just writing things down is the most important lesson I have learned from my use of notebooks over the last six years.