Friday, June 23, 2017

Book of Books

I just read Pamela Paul's My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. From the blurb:
Imagine keeping a record of every book you’ve ever read. What would this reading trajectory say about you? With passion, humor, and insight, the editor of The New York Times Book Review shares the stories that have shaped her life.

Pamela Paul has kept a single book by her side for twenty-eight years – carried throughout high school and college, hauled from Paris to London to Thailand, from job to job, safely packed away and then carefully removed from apartment to house to its current perch on a shelf over her desk – reliable if frayed, anonymous-looking yet deeply personal. This book has a name: Bob.
I enjoyed the book, though I would have liked to find out even more about Bob and I would have been satisfied to know somewhat less about Pamela. But it is a package deal, I guess.

Her practice reminds me of Walter Benjamin who also had a book in which he listed every book he ever read in its entirety. I find the practice intriguing and have emulated it half-heartedly, as you can see here.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Outwiker 2.0

OutWiker is often advertised as a personal wiki. On the Web site you find: "OutWiker is designed to store notes in a tree. Such programs are called "outliner", personal wiki, or tree-like editors. OutWiker's main difference from the other similar programs is keeping the tree of notes in the form of directories on disk, and encouraging changing the base by external sources and programs." This is at the very least misleading. Outliners and tree-like editors fall into a different category from wikis.

This is not to say, of course, that a program may not fall into both categories. Wikidpad obviously does both. And you might think that OutWiker does so as well.

However, I do not think that it really is a wiki. My main reason is this: While OutWiker allows for internal links, they are really just file links enclosed in double square brackets, like this: "[[other page -> /Projects/Outwiker/Screenshots/Page Example - 21]]".[1] This is really cumbersome and has none of the advantages of wikilinks (or free links). Straight file links would have been preferable. You could probably simplify it with an AhK script, but it would still be much more complicated than it should be.

I like the idea that the entries are text files, and I find much of the wiki markup acceptable, but I cannot live with the way links are implemented. Perhaps others can ...

1. There are other ways of doing the link, but they are all overly complicated, and I could not get most of them to work (which may have had to do with the fact that I ran the program in Parallels).

How Many Books Do You Need To Be A "Bookhoarder."

This site on famous book hoarders implies that 1,000 books are enough. But Karl Lagerfeld--who woul have known?--owns 300,000 and Hannah Arendt 4,000.

I would have liked to know what kind of books Lagerfeld owns. I know the kind Hannah Arendt owned. My own "collection" is very close to Arendt's in number and kind.

Oh ... and the article has beautiful pictures of libraries.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jarte Plus 6 and Autohotkey

Jarte is a capable word processor based on the Wordpad engine. It has some interesting feature, and the plus version is especially useful (even though I have not used it as much as I might have because it does not do footnotes. The new version still does not do footnotes. However, it now tightly integrates Autohotkey. As they say, "AutoHotkey is general purpose scripting tool and can be used be used with any Windows program, including both Jarte and Jarte Plus. However, Jarte Plus provides special features
that allow you integrate your AutoHotkey scripts seamlessly into Jarte Plus. Specifically, Jarte Plus allows you to do the following:
  • AutoHotkey scripts can be assigned to custom shortcut keys.
  • AutoHotkey scripts can be assigned to custom Quick Bar buttons.
  • Jarte templates can include special tags that automatically run scripts when a new document is started from a template.
  • Jarte Plus provides special Jarte script helper functions that make it easier to write scripts for performing tasks in Jarte."
It's the use in templates that interests me most.

Another new and interesting feature is that Jarte now supports attaching note hyperlinks to selected text. When you hover the mouse cursor over the link, it displays a freeform text note. It does not quite replace a footnote function, but it is a beginning!

I will have to play with it some (and might report on my experience at some later date). If you are interested in the plus version, it will set you back $19.95. The basic version is still free.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Didion on Her Notebook

Joan Didion wrote a famous essay "On Keeping a Notebook
... the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?
In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.
Notebooks are kept for many different purposes. Let's call Didion's notebook a "literary notebook," that is a resource for stories and essays. Insofar as I have kept and do keep notebooks, they have a different purpose: they are scholarly notebooks. I also tried (try) to keep "pointless entries" to a minimum, nor am I primarily interested in having "an accurate factual record of what I have been doing and thinking," but I try to avoid what Didion calls "lies." The distinction between "what happened" and what "might have happened" matters for my purposes, even if (or perhaps just because) it is difficult.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Can Spiderwebs Think?

The idea of "thinking spiderwebs" is suggested by the title of an article: The Thoughts of a Spiderweb. Based on an article in Animal Cognition, they suggest that some spider webs are "at least an adjustable part of its sensory apparatus, and sensory apparatus, and at most an extension of the spider’s cognitive system." This, it is further suggest: "would make the web a model example of extended cognition, an idea first proposed by the philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in 1998 to apply to human thought. In accounts of extended cognition, processes like checking a grocery list or rearranging Scrabble tiles in a tray are close enough to memory-retrieval or problem-solving tasks that happen entirely inside the brain that proponents argue they are actually part of a single, larger, 'extended' mind." Apart from the fact that the idea of an "extended mind" or "extended memory" does not originate with Clark and Chalmers, it is also questionable whether talk of "thoughts" is appropriate with regard to spiders, let alone with regard to their webs.

The author of the article knows these criticisms and suggests that we "more traditional theorists label these structures and spiderwebs alike as extended phenotypes, a term proposed by Richard Dawkins. Extended phenotypes are information from an animal’s genes that they express in the world. For example, bird nests are objects that are somehow encoded in the avian genome. And as with niche construction, natural selection affects the structure — different kinds of birds have evolved to build different kinds of nests, after all. But in the extended phenotype perspective, that selection ultimately just works inward, to tweak the controlling information in the animal’s genome."

I would put in my lot with the more traditional theorists, but I tend to agree with the critics who say "the only really strong case is the one with the most metaphysical baggage: us. “It is conceivable for cognition to be a property of a system with integrated nonbiological components.” I also agree that seems to be "where Homo sapiens is headed” or rather has been heading in this direction for a long time.

Luhmann's idea of "communicating" with Zettelkästen that has pre-occuupied this blog since its beginning is certainly one iteration of this idea.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uploading and Dowloading Thoughts

Elon Musk's new company "Neuralink is pursuing what Musk calls the "neural lace" technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts, the Wall Street Journal reported." This is interesting, if only because it presupposes a rather naïve view of what thoughts are, namely that they are discrete (software) objects or data structures "in the brain" that can be manipulated in the way in which any digital information can be manipulated.

Biologically speaking, thoughts may well be described as neurons firing together in certain patterns with certain brains. And there may be different patterns for the "same" thought in different brains. These patterns may be more dependent on independent external objects than this view suggests. As Howard Rheingold suggested "[T]he human organism is linked with an external entity in a two-way interaction, creating a coupled system that can be seen as a cognitive system in its own right. All the components in the system play an active causal role, and they jointly govern behavior in the same sort of way that cognition usually does. If we remove the external component the system’s behavioral competence will drop, just as it would if we removed part of its brain. Our thesis is that this sort of coupled process counts equally well as a cognitive process, whether or not it is wholly in the head."

This may mean that notes on paper or the computer are at least as important for "uploading" or "downloading" thoughts than what's in the brain. I am sure this will be figured out eventually.

Just a thought!