Thursday, December 20, 2018

It Needs Wiki-Like Superpower

Tim King in a post on note-taking makes the following observation:
If there is one feature that excels above all others in information software of the past two decades that deserves its place in the note taking pantheon, its the humble double bracketed internal link.

We all recognise power to store and retrieve information at will, but when you combine this power with the ability to successfully create new knowledge trees from existing documents, to follow thoughts in a ‘stream of consciousness’ non-linear fashion then individual notes transform from multiple static word-silos into a living information system system.

Sadly, this is the one major feature that is always neglected, or is piecemeal at best… and one time note taking king Evernote is to blame.

Evernote had long been the gold standard of note taking, flexible, functional and best of all affordable. While its user interface was a little odd at times, the features were excellent, but they made the simple mistake of not enabling wiki style internal links. Instead, they required a user to copy a note link from one note and paste it into another.

This is a trend that other note taking software developers have seemingly taken to heart as quite a number of top-tier apps now emulate this somewhat novel but far from useful feature.

While this seems to give the same end result, it doesn’t achieve the effect that Ward Cunningham intended when he began to develop some of the first Wiki Software.

Cunningham first developed the ability to automatically create internal links (read: new notes) when typing text in CamelCase. This meant you could easily be typing a sentence while describing a piece of information and simply type a word (or series of words) in CamelCase which would create a link to another piece of information (even if its page hadn’t already been created).

This was quickly superseded by the double square bracket links most wiki’s use today to achieve the same results, and its the staple creation method in both wiki’s and other premier information systems today.

Quickly typing in double square brackets [[ This would be a link ]] lets you get on with the text you’re currently typing, while also recognising another important subject you also want to write about later. Clicking on the resultant link creates and visits a new document to which you can immediately add information.

The only piece of note taking software on the market that currently supports this feature (that I’m aware of) is Microsoft OneNote.

If I could have only one note taking wish fulfilled is that this wiki-like feature be first on the minds of developers, copying a note link and pasting it in just doesn’t cut it. (I’m staring at you Ulysses, Bear, and Apple Notes devs.)

I couldn't agree more with this observation. He seems to be on the Mac and is therefore excused for not knowing ConnectedText.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

George Steiner on Readers and Intellectuals

George Steiner said abbout Chardin's "Le Philosophe Lisant":
He has his pen next to his reading. Serious reading means you read with a pen. What do you do with a pen? You underline, you take notes on the page, you write around the margin. What are you really doing? You are in dialog with the book, you are answering it, you are speaking to it, and if you are very arrogant and very ambitious, you are saying secretly, you can write a better one. And that is the beginning of a certain relationship of passionate joy and love with the text.
He defined an intellectual as "quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book." I like it, even if it is a bit simple-minded.[1]

2. See George Steiner, No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995 (New Haven: Yale U Press, 1996), p. 8. For an interesting take on pencils, see here.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Pen, Pencil, Typewriter, or Computer

John Gardner once said that the question he was most often asked by beginning writers was what tools he used: pen, pencil, or typewriter, and he said that this question has no right answer and is also a question that should not be answered at all. For more on this, see Austin Kleon who does not seem to be able to resist the urge to answer.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Linking Textfiles with Backlinks

Here is a very simple AhK script that opens up or creates text files from their names in a file. It also inserts a back link to the file from which it is created.

^+o:: ;link text files in D:\Texts

SetWorkingDir, D:\Texts

WinGetTitle, Title, A
StringReplace, Title, Title, - Notepad, , All

clpboard =
Send, ^c
thefilename := clipboard

IfExist, %thefilename%
run %thefilename%
IfNotExist, %thefilename%
FileAppend, %thefilename%, %thefilename%
run %thefilename%
sleep, 500
Send {End}`r`n%Title%{Up}

Just select the entire file name, like "start.txt" or "start.rtf", and press ^+o.

You can, of course change the hotkey as well as the directory. It should also work with other file types, as long as they are registered in Windows. The script is not a wiki, of course, but its linking behavior comes close. If you use a rtf files, you have other markup as well. In fact, it is a very rudimentary wysiwyg wiki.

Postscript, Friday, November 16, 2018 at 20:29: I tried a slightly changed version of the script (different hotkey, different directory, changed StringReplace in line 4) with Jarte. It worked, but not reliably, that is, not always. Every once in a while it would not launch the file selected (even though it had done so before) In one sense that does not bother me, as I am more interested in connecting text files. What bothers me is that I cannot explain why Jarte and rtf files don't always work.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sign of the Times?

TrunkNotes is being discontinued, as I just found out. The author of the program openly states his reasons in his blog post:
Trunk Notes has been in development since 2009 and unfortunately it has come time to say goodbye. Revenue from Trunk Notes in the past couple of years has been very low. The interest in personal wikis, especially when lacking a companion web or desktop app, just isn’t high enough to generate the sales needed for further development. To give an idea of monthly income from Trunk Notes - it is equivalent to about one hour worked on projects for clients. The lack of competitor personal wikis on the App Store is a very clear indication that not many people are looking for one.
I am sorry that he could not make a go of it. I am even more sorry because he seems to be right. The interest in personal wikis, while never really as enthusiastic as I would have wished, definitely has diminished over the last few years. "[N]ot many people are looking for one."

In my view, many people unfortunately don't know what they are missing. In any case, I continue to find personal wikis—and especially ConnectedText—most useful, but I obviously am in a fairly small minority—or so it seems. Too bad! I just hope that ConnectedText will continue to work for a long time.

Recently, in the spirit of "future-proofing," I have been playing around with personal wikis based on text files. LoneWiki is the winner in this department. It takes 15,000 entries exported from ConnectedText without the slightest problems, and while it is missing many of the functions of ConnectedText, it has enough of them to make me happy. To be sure, I am not using it as a replacement as of now, but it is good to know that it will be there, should it ever become necessary.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


wik, a wiki in a browser.

No further comment!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Popper on Writing and Objective Knowledge

Sir Karl Popper made a sharp distinction between subjective and objective knowledge. Subjective knowledge is, he thought, deficient. It is expressive of our concrete mental dispositions and expectations; it consists of concrete world 2 thought processes. Objective knowledge is far superior. But how do we get from subjective to objective knowledge?

Popper believed that objective knowledge comes about by writing ideas down:
Putting your ideas into words, or better, writing them down makes an important difference. For in this way they become criticisable, Before this, they were part of ourselves. We may have had doubts. But we could not criticize them in the way in which we criticize a linguistically formulated proposition or, better still, a written report. Thus there is at least one important sense of "knowledge"—the sense of "linguistically formulated theories submitted to criticism." It is what I call "knowledge in the objective sense". Scientific knowledge belongs to it. It is knowledge which is stored in our libraries rather than in our heads.[1]
Knowledge stored in libraries and in our notes is much more important than knowledge stored in our heads; it leads to the growth of knowledge in the objective sense of the word because it allows of and enables serious criticism. That is one of the reason why I consider it so important to take notes.

1. See Bryan Magee, Modern British Philosophy. Dialogues with A.J. Ayers, Stuart Hampshire, Alisdair MacIntyre, Alan Montefiore, David Pears, Karl Popper, Anthony Quinton, Gilbert Ryle, Ninian Smart, Peter Strawson, Geoffrey Warnock, Bernard Williams, Richard Wollheim. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971), p. 74.