Friday, December 19, 2014

Medieval Notepads

Here is a fascinating post on how people used the margins of books for notes.[1] The most common other note-taking implement was the wax tablet, of course.

But slips of parchment (left overs from cuting the pages for books) were also used Apparently there was a guide book called De discipline scholarum "for students and teachers at the University of Paris" that explained "how a student should bring such slips of parchment to class for taking notes." It dates from 1230.

I wish I knew more about the medieval practices.

1. See also here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Chapters as Organizing Principles

The first authors who wrote in chapters were not storytellers. They were compilers of knowledge, either utilitarian or speculative, who used chapters as a way of organizing large miscellanies. Cato the Elder’s “De Agri Cultura” (“On Farming”), from the second century B.C.E., was organized in numbered units with titles; Pliny the Elder’s great compilation of Roman science, “Naturalis Historia” (“Natural History”), from the first century C.E., came with a summarium of topics similar to a modern table of contents; Aulus Gellius, a collector of legal and linguistic arcana in the second century C.E., divided his “Noctes Atticae” (“Attic Nights”) into “capita” with long descriptive titles.* These chapters, unlike the “books” of epic poetry, were what we would now call finding aids: devices for quickly locating specific material in long texts that were not meant to be read straight through.
I am not sure whether this is true, but it is interesting.

For more, see this article in the New Yorker.

It's amazing to me how recent are such things as spaces between words, chapters, alphabetization of materials, and other organizational principles that characterize the modern books really are. Perhaps there are some fundamental ordering principles that we overlook in ancient texts. In any case, the transition from oral organization to mere bookishness was more gradual than we realize.

Is the Pen "a Weapon for Readers"?

It is, if you believe Tim Parks or accept his arguments in the New York Review of Books blog. He goes so far as to claim that reading pen in hand might not be the "single alteration in people’s behavior [that] might best improve the lot of mankind" but he "firmly believe[s] such a simple development would bring huge benefits."

I am not so sure, but have no objection if people use their own books and not the library copies, as I think I said before.

An interesting article!

Enough said!


I have been using a minimalist to do program for a while. It's called TodoTextMac. A fuller description is found here. If you would like an explanation of the principles behind TodoTxt, I recommend this Web site or the Web site by the originator of the format.

TodoTxtMac is of course for the Mac. You can also get an application for the iPad, called Todo.txt Touch, for Windows (Todour), as well as for many platforms. I have only used the mac and the Windows version. They work well, and their files are fully compatible with each other.

The basis idea goes back to Gina Trapani, and it started out as a very sparse command line application. I like simple, but find the original version a bit too sparse. TodoTxtMac and Todour hit the sweet spot for me.

Oh ... and did I mention that the applications are free?

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Journaley is an open-source journal keeping software for Windows, which is compatible with the Day One app for Mac. I have been using Day One for almost three years. It works well, and I like it. I have used Journaley for less than a day, but it seems to work as advertised. I have set it up to sync with DropBox.

I believe it will be just as useful to people who don't use Day One on the Mac. In fact, it may be more useful, as it essentially reproduces the capabilities of Day One. It may be called "Day One for Windows."

I learned of the application from David Bosman

Extensive Review of Note-Taking Programs

A Cornucopia of Programs offers excellent short reviews of windows note-taking programs. Highly recommended!

No further comment!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quick Word Writer

I recently came across Quick Word Writer in the Apple App Store. It is advertised as "the powerful word processor for OS X. An intuitive interface, powerful writing tools, and unmatched compatibility make it the choice of serious writers everywhere." The developer is obviously Chinese (Trongx Trading).

What intrigues me most is that it is supposed to do footnotes and endnotes. While $29.99 is cheap for a word processor, it is too much for me to just waste. I know nothing more about the application than that you can buy it through the App Store and that it promises to be good. But I have been burned before.

Does anyone know anything more about this application?