Sassafras4u: Science Article SpreadSheets And Fast Reference Archive System

Purpose of this Site

My Solution

If you’re reading this page, congratulations and thank you! You’re undoubtedly among the very tiny minority who will actually “get” this site’s essential purpose and be able to use to your full advantage the method I discovered several years ago (and which I have continued to use to my own advantage) to most effectively and efficiently read fascinating sci/tech articles—many, many more than would even be possible otherwise.

Contrary to what will probably be the first impression of writers who, since the Internet age, have had to become ever more protective—even paranoid—of their intellectual rights, the essential purpose of this site is not to provide some devious or unethical method of “file sharing” of their original property to the masses, in the sense we’ve come to abhor with music or video files, with the intention of repurposing or circumventing the path to the original source information, but rather to enable reading and, in fact, encourage enjoying many more of these fascinating articles than a person would be likely to come across or enjoy reading on their own in the first place during the normal course of the day.

In fact, you’ll find that the easiest thing to do on this site is to click on an article title that interests you. You’ll find that this will immediately take you to the original article webpage.

It’s only upon further exploration (and reading my explanatory pages) that you’ll discover the method I describe easily enables the most efficient reading of more than 100 articles each day.

The crux of the solution is the realization that I could read the text of an article considerably faster—and with much more enjoyment and comprehension—from a “cleaned” text file than from the original webpage itself—especially by using a text viewer, such as Tofu, which was created explicitly to expedite rapid reading.

Plus, if you ever want to have your computer “speak” the text to you (as Tofu and other text viewers, editors or word processors are able to easily do), you will instantly appreciate not having to suffer through tons of irrelevant “garbage text” while having to pay closer attention to when the “real” article text continues once again.

I realize that one big reason for this is that I’ve been trying to train myself to be a careful editor over these many years, so, if I come across anything that I would want to edit, correct or delete as not immediately relevant (e.g., ads, “related links” that aren’t really related, extra spaces or paragraph returns, or weird characters [due to keystroke differences between PC and Mac, or foreign-language keyboards, for example]), if I had that responsibility, brings the flow of my reading to an instant and annoying halt, no matter how much I consciously try to fight against this now-automatic response.

Needless to say, this made my reading much less enjoyable, and discouraged me from reading very many online articles in the first was just too frustrating.

But, I have been happy, for several years now, with a solution I discovered to the annoying problems that kept me from being able to enjoy reading as many science/technology Web news articles as I would’ve wanted.

Rather than keep this solution to myself only for my own benefit—essentially the daily creation of cleaned text files—I have made them available here so that you can decide for yourself whether this method could benefit you similarly as well.

The Problem with Web News Articles and Why This Site is Unique—and, Therefore, Indispensible to You!

This site represents my personal solution to the vexing problem of rapidly and conveniently digesting my science/technology news, and at a time, or times, of my convenience.

Several years ago, I became frustrated with the existing methods of obtaining my sci/tech news—and, even more generally, discouraged with the apparent sorry state of science literacy among our general populace.

I felt that science education in general needed to be able to dramatically and more effectively use the Internet’s and our personal computers’ advantages: speed, availability, searchability, time-convenience, flexibility of presentation (including speech and change of font, size, colors, layout, etc.) for most efficient reading / comprehension / retention / enjoyment, and the ability to compactly archive and refind—i.e., actually be able to use effectively—personally useful information for immediate enjoyment or future reference (perhaps repeatedly, as the pertinence of specific information may change [e.g., the latest medical research becomes more pertinent to your immediate health], our memory of details becomes vague, or, perhaps, just that our interests change).

Increasing our personal life knowledge ought to be as convenient and enjoyable as possible, given the wonderfully useful state of the current technology.

Problem: How Do You Bookmark 1/2 -million Articles?

I found that, even with the numerous “tagging” tools and sites that are currently very popular, it was clearly quite impossible to “bookmark” or “tag” what was rapidly approaching a half million articles of (mostly) personal interest to me and to which I was optimistically confident I would want to be able to quickly and conveniently refer at some point in the future. It turns out that, indeed, I’ve been glad to be able to do so, and many, many times, and have been thankful to have created this efficient system for myself early on!

I quickly found that I rarely have a continuous block of time to read web articles in “real time”—at the time when I first stumble upon them and find their title, subtitle, or first phrases of the beginning paragraphs intriguing enough to think that I would enjoy reading them when it was more convenient, and, perhaps in smaller, though more numerous, blocks of time.

Therefore—using an old analogy with printed material—I wanted to be able to dog-ear, bookmark or Sticky-note pages (articles) that looked interesting upon first glance for later consumption, when sufficient opportunity became available.

Or, using another analogy with VCRs, I wanted to be able to time-shift my “more devoted viewing” to a time of my choosing. In the case of the VCR, I would rarely record more than one or two programs for later viewing so indexing (bookmarking) was never the problem that the present situation presents.

The current Web paradigm would suggest that I bookmark the articles in my browser but, obviously (after the first several hundred bookmarks, or first several thousand, if you’re a slow learner), it would become quickly obvious that this method won’t work in the long run.

It’s also not possible, using any tool of which I’m aware, to use any kind of search tool to search among bookmarks for a particular article I want to revisit or reaccess. In the first place, it takes a lot of time (think 1/4 million) to assign a title or practical/useful words to the bookmarks, otherwise the default title won’t be of any help, even if a “bookmark search tool” were available.

I want to be able to search among any information that I had previously saved, confident that what I’m looking for was already purposefully saved there—it shouldn’t be necessary to initiate a brand new Web-wide search each time, yielding millions of new links that are impossible for me to check out quickly (although that option still always remains available at any time, so I haven’t really lost anything in this respect).

Problem: How Do You Search Bookmarks?

Even if you somehow managed to diligently bookmark all of the articles you’ve read of continuing interest to you or want to read later, how would you search among them to find the particular article you remember bookmarking and that you’re now looking for?

If someone has found a simpler method to do this, mazel tov! Such a solution has eluded me so far—except for this very method that has served me very well for about eight years now.

By archiving articles as text files, not only does what would have been laboriously created “bookmarks” become searchable but, in fact, the entire article (not only the title I happened to give it at the time) becomes searchable using any modern desktop search tool, such as Spotlight or Google Desktop. (The titles, too, are automatically searchable from their appearance on the spreadsheets.)

Problem: How to Read Articles Rapidly Enough and at a Convenient Time to Enable Reading Them at All !

I also found that I wasn’t able to read nearly as many articles online as I wished because I never have available the continuous blocks of time required to do this. Plus, I find reading text from many (in fact, I would argue, ALL) websites is much slower, even tedious, than from a text file presented in Tofu (which, after all, has been expressly designed for rapid reading).

Reading text from webpage layouts is frustratingly slow because of wide column widths, non-preferred font selection, irregular horizontal (and vertical) positions and numerous other distractions beyond immediate convenient control.

I was therefore searching for a way to read articles as rapidly and enjoyably as possible and at a time of my convenience.

Before discovering this method, I was resigned to accept that I would never have the time to view even half the articles that I now find possible to read and I would simply have to leave the sites unread immediately, very frustrated—or, more often, not have time to visit them at all (or deliberately avoid visiting them) knowing that I would not have the time to read anything there anyway and thus would only frustrate myself in the end if I made any attempt.

Over the past 5 years, I have created my own personal archive of hundreds of thousands (over a quarter million) science news articles of particular interest to me and to which I have often enjoyed referring—and very rapidly, by using an efficient desktop search tool, such as Spotlight. By creating my own archive, I am automatically assured that everything in it is already of direct interest and relevance to me.

Study of the Process of Editing Requires Access to Previously Saved Articles Covering the Same “Story”

With an interest in the process of editing, I wanted to be able to study how “stories” are differently reported by editing decisions and also how this changes over a period of time (as new information may become available or opinions/conclusions change).

I.e., I want to be able to find different articles covering the same “story” from among those I’ve read, have determined might be of value in this respect and have, therefore, deliberately saved.


Everyone I talk to suggests that I categorize the articles, otherwise “they won’t find this site useful to them.”

In contrast, I’ve found that deliberately discarding this old paradigm at the very start has made my reading that much more interesting. If I had presumed that I already knew what I would be interested in, I would have completely missed the great majority of what I have, in fact, subsequently found most fascinating. I’ve been constantly enlightened by presuming that, in fact, I don’t already know what will interest me.

Further, a powerful desktop search tool (e.g., Spotlight or Google Desktop) becomes a Hyper-Categorizing tool, if you think about it: search phrases (refined to the exact query at hand) gives me quick access to the precise useful information that I knew would come in handy someday! More immediately, I also find the “Find on this page” command very useful to find related articles on each day’s spreadsheet.

Slow, Laborious Reading Not Required

It’s also very reassuring to know that, upon first reading, I needn’t attempt to memorize every little (although, perhaps, ultimately important) detail, or read each article so carefully and laboriously (as if I were back in school preparing for some impending exam), reassured in knowing that I will always be able to quickly and conveniently access whatever details I need—and whenever I need them—in the future. I only need to “vaguely recall” that I “read something” about the general topic and that I probably archived any related articles. (I’ve found that I’ve been able to meet this rather low requirement [even at my age] thus far.)

I hope that if you adopt a method like this for yourself, it will help perpetuate the numerous wonderful science sites (by making it possible for you to read considerably more articles, and visit their sites, than you’d otherwise be able). After all, these sites do the “real work” of providing the primary news reporting from which we all benefit.

Working Procedure

After years of trying various working procedures, I find myself enjoying having the original web article open in my browser at the same time as I’m able to read the text itself much more rapidly in Tofu. Seeing the original in the browser allows me to instantly grasp the intended layout and any critical graphics and immediately pertinent links, while reading the text in Tofu is much more efficient, due to the narrower column width (less tiring for my eyes than scanning across a wide line width and in a font not ideal for rapid reading).

Styled Text: Format of Choice

Styled text is my format of choice because it will always remain easily readable by any text editor/viewer or word processor, is extremely compact and is easily searchable by any search engine. Download the article “Data For the Next Generations” (#121 on 11/12/07 spreadsheet), which adds strong support for this format choice.

Another article reinforcing this choice is the article “Questions for Microsoft on open formats” (#62 on 5/26/08 spreadsheet; article published July 2007).

The collection of timely, interesting articles as text files—already “cleaned” of annoying advertising or extraneous text (see Cleaned Text)—is the solution I have found that addresses the problems I had with the Web, as discussed above. (See Suggestions.)

However, I’ve provided the final text files for you as Microsoft Word RTF, so that they will maintain the format and styling features across any platform.

Reflects My Methods

Sassafras4u reflects the way I prefer being presented with my daily hit of science news: serendipitously and without preconceptions about what I might be interested in. In other words, I don’t like to always begin by “searching” for something in particular (although it certainly doesn’t preclude my doing a search for a particular topic that piques my interest at any point).

I think of it as my iPod Shuffle for news: I know I’ll be interested in whatever comes up (since I deliberately saved each item in the collection) but don’t know exactly what will show up next.

Here’s a thought-provoking article discussing engineering serendipity online (“But how do you find stuff you don’t know you are looking for?” asks Ethan Zuckerman) and homophily (the social quirk where people tend to hang out with like-minded individuals). The article is #34 from 12/25/08.

Sharing with Friends

I enjoy sharing science articles with friends. Years ago I would send compressed archives of selections of text files, or large bunches of URLs (hardly an inviting incentive)—different selections to different friends. But I wanted to find an easier way to do this sharing without sending individual emails and attachments.

This website is a simple way for me to share a vast quantity of interesting articles with my friends...and with everyone.

The Editing Process

As I mentioned above, I am very interested, as an editor, in the process by which information is selected, reworked and presented—i.e., edited—by different sources...and over time.

I like to read several versions of the “same story” and make up my own mind which does a good job presenting the material clearly and, more interestingly, how this was accomplished through skillful editing. I don’t welcome some one person, or even the consensus of a large group, telling me beforehand which is the “best” version to which I should automatically limit myself.

Minimal Categorizing, Tagging or Editorializing

Therefore, I have very deliberately not preemptively categorized, tagged, filtered, edited or individually ranked articles, nor otherwise organized them in ways similar to the multitude of popular online tagging and other tools and sites with which you are undoubtedly already familiar.

These other options are still available at any time, so no capability has been lost.

I present no added editorial opinion, other than daily highlighting a selection of articles that I’ve found personally interesting and thus suggest you read first.

Enlightenment with Enjoyment and Entertainment

I constantly remind myself that my ultimate goal in reading and saving such a broad range of articles as text files is personal enjoyment and entertainment. What could be viewed as a great deal of work, if not for this goal, has instead been a source of great pleasure and enjoyment.

Since reading the articles from the cleaned text files is always much faster and more enjoyable than from even the original webpages (although the pages are also open simultaneously, as mentioned above), this has become my main method of reading my daily sci/tech news, and has easily and quickly supplanting the traditional audio-visual or print media.

Desktop Search Tools

Using any efficient desktop search engine (such as Spotlight, Google Desktop), it’s very quick and convenient to refind information in my archive.

To optimize future searches, and also to ensure that the file format will always remain readable by any conceivable future computer, I save the articles as plain styled text documents.

Uniquely, “garbage text” (advertising text, unrelated links, extra spaces and returns, and “non-universal characters” (keystrokes that are not cross-platform—i.e., they appear differently on Mac and PC) have been removed or replaced (see Cleaned Text), so that I don’t even become slightly annoyed by anything that breaks the smooth and rapid flow of my reading.

Also, the removal of garbage text not directly related to the story at hand prevents a search engine from being thrown off-track by unrelated text.

News Articles Often Disappear

As you might expect of any news item, articles tend to disappear eventually, so, if I wish to save the graphics, I do so at the time, not expecting them to be still available far into the future when the information contained in an article may become of much greater interest to me than I presently realize.

Of course, if I’ve saved the text files to my archive, these will remain available for reference far into the future, even after the original online article has been removed or edited.

This fleeting nature is especially true of blogs, of course, so I find that saving interesting information from a blog as a text file is a good snapshot that may be useful to me in the future.

See an interesting 3/23/08 article about disappearing web pages.


This site has been created using Freeway. See an article about “Web Design Apps for Beginners,” (11-22-07, file #143) mentioning Freeway.

Example: This Page as a Text File

To demonstrate for yourself whether reading an article from a text file is more rapid and convenient than from a webpage, try reading this page as a text file (non-Mac users: ignore a separate file containing Mac icon/style info which may appear). If you don’t have a text viewer designed for rapid reading (like Tofu for Mac), try narrowing the column-width of your text editor or word processor to be more like reading from a newspaper.

Future Possibilities

With a paradigm shift like the iPhone, you also have immediate access to the original webpage layout and graphics, of course, so that you can quickly grasp, at a glance, the intent and nature of the article. But not having to zoom in and out, and scroll horizontally, in order to conveniently “read” the article, would be a huge incentive to actually do so, while commuting by train, for example, adding to your productivity...or simply for your enjoyment.

Although, so far, I don’t consider any iPhone applications ideal for reading styled-text files, I currently recommend GoodReader and eReader. Also, check out ScrollMotion and FileMagnet.

A service that is similar to my idea of saving webpages as html or as text for more convenient viewing at a later time is InstaPaper. However, while convenient for a few articles at a time, you’ll quickly realize that this method doesn’t work for tens or hundreds of thousands of articles, as I am suggesting.