Thursday, December 31, 2009

Collections of Nothing

I had to spend the period between Christmas and the last days of 2009 on business in New York. I allowed myself one outing: Strand's bookstore, where I had been once before and which I remembered fondly. How disappointing! The philosophy and the German sections were especially bad.

Still, I "found" two books worthy of buying. One was a Penguin selection of Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, called Some Anatomies of Melancholy.[1] The cover contains the quote: "These unhappy men are born to misery, past all hope of recovery, incurably sick, the longer they live the worse they are, and death alone must ease them." The men (and women) thus described are those afflicted with melancholy, of course. But he might as well have meant collectors.

In any case, the second book I bought was William Davies King's Collections of Nothing (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008). I read the Burton selections on the train home to Boston and the King memoir in the hotel the very night I bought the book. It's a description of the author's life through the lens of his affliction of having to collect things that have no value at all, such as "44 varieties of tuna-fish labels, 276 varieties of water-bottle labels, candy wrappers, bacon boxes, cigar bands, luggage tags, envelope liners, cereal boxes and more" valuable things such as books, for instance. Fortunately for me, perhaps, I collect far less: Notes on matters that interest me (obsessively), books (too many), pencils (fewer), and watches (very few). As King notes, there "are collectors who do not amass, in a physical sense ..." But all collectors, he thinks, "occupy a conceptual space that is the enlarged but displaced sense of self. Every day in every way our collections will get better and better, even if the world does suck rocks" (29). Indeed!

And this is how it must have appeared to Robert Burton when he collected the materials for his Anatomy of Melancholy. One look at the "Causes of Melancholy" should suffice to prove this. He lists general and particular causes, where the general causes are either natural or supernatural, and the supernatural either from God, his angels, or "by God's permission from the devil and his ministers" (9). The natural causes are more boring: parents, food, and such things. But the "Digression of the Nature of Spirits. Bad Angels or Devils, and how they Cause Melancholy" is more interesting. All of this is meticulously documented by references to ancient and modern authors. To say that the Anatomy is a commonplace book is too generic. It is a record of a true collection of nothing, if only because an evil like melancholy—if an evil it is—is truly an absence of being.

King's "nothings," by contrast, are truly things. I am not sure whether collections represent a "displaced sense of self" or a "misplaced sense of self," but I doubt that they are either. What is our self, if not a collection—Hume would have said 'bundle"—of representations of objects?

But however that may be, there are quite a few interesting reviews of the book on the "Internets," like this one or that one, which even has a link to his collages of books.

I will not, and I mean "not," start a collection of books on collecting. This is my New Year's resolution!

1. I bought it, even though I already own the 1927 edition of the The Anatomy of Melancholy: "Now for the first time with the Latin completely given in translation and embodied in an all-English text. Ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith. New York: Tudor Publishing Company." The first edition was published in 1621. I occasionally read in it, just as I occasionally re-read some of the essays of Montaigne.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

ConnectedText and NoteTab

As I said before, the ability of getting information easily in and out is for me one of the most important characteristics of a program. It allows you to import existing work into other formats. Text is the most rudimentary and therefore perhaps also most important medium for this.

It's no secret to anyone reading this blog that I use ConnectedText for my information needs and Notetab as my editor of choice. I have talked earlier about the way they can be made to interact.[1] Here a new way: You can now export all of the topics of a ConnectedText project into one large text file. If you choose "H=" as the separator for topics, you can easily create a Notetab outline file (otl), in which all the topic links work just as in ConnectedText.

The steps are as follows:
  1. Change the delimiter in ConnectedText to "M="
  2. Export to a text file
  3. Open the text file in NoteTab
  4. Search and replace "M= " (the space after "=" is important) with "^P=H" (it is important that the editor in which you replace understand "^P" as a new paragraph)
    (no space)
  5. Insert "= V4 Outline MultiLine TabWidth=50" at the beginning of the file. You can change the "50" to "40" or "60". It just indicates the width of the outline pane.
  6. Save with the otl extension
  7. Open the file again in Notetab
You should now have a fully working version of a Notetab outline. I do this occasionally and use the file-names in the following way: ProjectDate.otl (example: Notes20091226.otl). This way I have dated snapshots of my projects. By the way, Notetab states that it has a limit of 5400 outline haedings. I have found that to be false. In practice, 7000 headings are no problem (*but this may have to do with the fact that my entries are usually short (between 350 and 500 words).

It is possible to transform "otl" files into "hjt" or Treepad files, and these can be transformed into "exe" files, but this takes a bit of doing. Still, it is one way to transform your ConnectedText project into a standalone program.

1. ConnectedText and Notetab Outlines. The new ability of ConnectedText to export to one large text file makes the process much easier. The Autohotkey script is no longer needed.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

TreePad X Enterprise

The single user version of TreePad X Enterprise has been released on December 17th. While Treepad comes in several different versions, most will probably be acquainted the freeware version, Treepad Lite, which also has recently been updated (December 11).

As they say: "TreePad Lite (freeware) and TreePad Asia (freeware) are small and powerful personal database programs, only 600 Kb in size. They allow you to store all your notes, emails, texts, hyperlinks, etc. into one or multiple databases. With the look and feel of the familiar Windows explorer, editing, storing, browsing, searching and retrieving your data can not be easier! ... [They] can be run directly from a floppy, if necessary, including data. To find any article you previously created or imported, you can browse the tree, in the same way as you browse directories/folders in the Windows explorer. You can also use the internal search engine to find any piece of information swiftly." It stores information in what is essentially a text file.

I am a registered user of TreePad Business, which adds some interesting features to the free version, most notably rtf support and convenient hyperlinking of notes. It also plays well with ConnectedText's URLs and allows me to integrate the two applications. (I have even beenfound a way to store entire (and very large) ConnectedText projects in TreePad Files.

Treepad Business my favorite two-pane outliner, which I use to store "static" information, i.e. documents for reference, etc.

I also licensed the single-user version of Treepas X, which uses SQL, but I do not like it very much because it does not interact well with AutoHotKey—something to do with the way it interacts with the clipboard (I think).

I have tried many two-pane outliners, but I always go back to Treepad Business edition

More on Luminotes

As I pointed out before Luminotes's license has been changed to Open Source. This holds for the Desktop, Thumbdrive and Online versions.

The stated reason: "Several U.S. state governments, including my own (Washington state), are in the process of enacting new sales tax laws that would require merchants to charge 'destination-based' sales tax on online services like Luminotes subscriptions and downloads." But development had been slow during the last few months already.

What I always liked about it is the explicit Index Card Metaphor. What I still dislike are, among other things, that a single note cannot be longer than 50,000 characters. It does not allow of tags either. In other words, though I like the basic idea, it's not for me.

See also LifeHacker.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Using Library of Congress Subject Headings

Subject Headings can be useful.

No further comment!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Interesting Post on Endnote and Zotero

Endnote and Zotero: "I think Zotero is superior in most respects." But see also the reference to this: "Zotero is not designed for historians, but for people who do 'research' by downloading documents or snippets from the Internet, which can be an unreliable source, and for all the blessings of the Gutenberg enterprise and Google reproductions, and Lexis, and JStor etc, historians have to encounter the primary sources where they are found, and they are mostly text. Still, in checking out Zotero I found some really cool conveniences, like the automatic downloading of a citation of a book. For me the decisive factor will be the ease of writing notes (not copying undigested snippets) and having them documented (Zotero has no place for page number, one of the most important single pieces of data in a citation)."

No further comment!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Why use GNote when there is Tomboy?

To be honest, I don't know. I don't use Linux.[1]

No further comment!

1. See also Tomboy on windows.


There is a review of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-book reader in the New York Times. Apparently, the "Nook" isn't ready for prime-time. Among other things, "... it's buggy."

Meanwhile I have experimented with Amazon's "Kindle for the PC." It works. I even bought one book. What I don't like is that it does not show the original page numbers of the book. So you can't quote it. This makes it pretty much useless for research. It does not allow of any cut and paste, notes or annotations either. The implementation of the latter is planned, however.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Apperceptive Mass

"... I am more than ever convinced of the desirability for the student or general reader of an 'apperceptive mass'—in common terms, a large dose of information with which to fill out the abstractions he is so ready to accept or reject on their mere congeniality or the reverse." Jacques Barzun, Classic, Romantic, and Modern (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1975), xii.

I would agree. And a complete lack of 'apperceptive mass' seems to me characteristic of what passes today for the "history of philosophy" and "the history of ideas." But what is more disconcerting to me is that this holds not just for "the student or general reader," but also for many of the authors of such productions, who seem to be proud of the lack of apperceptive mass that allows them to reconstruct philosophical (and other) theories in terms of what is congenial or congenial to them.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How a Wiki Grows

See it grow.

I don't like the music ...

No further comment!


There is an interesting reference to a paper about what appears to be a defunct application for writing in the Outliner Forum.[1] The application was called SuperText. It was designed for students or beginners in writing, but the ideas put forward in this paper seem relevant for writing at any level of competence.

The author of the paper who also created the application, seems to think that there are three "steps" or "stages" of writing, namely
  1. note-taking, which represents "a completely unorganised set of ideas" and notes
  2. Connecting and Hierarchical Ordering, or
    1. networking, and
    2. outlining
  3. the final, linearised, paper-based document.[2]
It is important to understand that he does not think that these "steps" or "stages" occur necessarily in strict or dstinct temporal sequence. Writers may "cycle" through several iterations of these processes at different times.

It's interesting that SuperText was based on what the author calls the "Behavioural model," which is characterized by its emphasis on a preliminary non-linear document organisation or the network stage (2.1)

The author claims that a
network is useful for capturing associations between ideas ... is not a structure that is easily captured in conventional linear text. Linearising a network is typically complex, and, on balance, networks were seen as counter-productive in this context of guiding unsupervised and inexperienced writers to concentrate on the structure of their writing.[3] Consequently, SuperText does not provide a non-linear representation. To compensate for this in some measure, it presents linearised hierarchies with different degrees of formality. Besides the more formal ‘Tree’ and ‘Numbered’ Presentations shown above, the display of the hierarchy can be suppressed completely, or shown by bullets, to provide less formal Presentations suited to the earlier stages of document creation."
So, while the preliminary network stage seems central in his view of the writing process, it could not be properly represented in the program.

Whatever may have been the limitations of representations in 1997, they no longer need to constrain us. A personal wiki, like ConnectedText, is very adept at expressing or capturing associations between ideas in a network.[4] The resulting network does notneed to be linearized, but it can be in a special topic or, preferably, in the outliner (with now also includes hoisting).

After the notes have processed in the outliner, they can be dragged into a topic, where the outline headings become "headers," the last step towards a linearised text can also be largely accomplished in this program.

It therefore appears to me that ConnectedText accomplishes better today what SuperText was intended to accomplish in 1997.[5]

1. J. Barrow, “A Writing Support Tool with Multiple Views,” Computers and the Humanities 31 (1997), pp. 13-30.

2. "During the early stages of writing, writers may capture their thinking in an unorganised set of ideas. As they consolidate these ideas, writers use more constrained representations, progressively moving through networks or hierarchies to the final linear form. Thus, the first dimension of this behavioural model consists of three degrees of organisation for the emerging document."

3. I would argue that this is a mistake. Even beginning writers benefit from reflecting on the network of ideas that may guide them in structuring their topic.

4. They can even be graphically expressed in a graph.

5. I should perhaps also point out that the thread in which the reference to the paper is found concerns ThinkSheet, which is an interesting application in its own right.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mark Twain on Memory

Just came across this quote by Mark Twain:
"I used to remember my brother Henry walking into a fire outdoors when he was a week old. It was remarkable in me to remember a thing like that and it was still more remarkable that I should cling to the delusion for thirty years that I did remember it -- for of course it never happened; he would not have been able to walk at that age. . . . For many years I remembered helping my grandfather drinking his whiskey when I was six weeks old but I do not tell about that any more now; I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened."[1]

1. Ben Yagoda, Memoir, A History (2009), called my attention to it. The passage is from The Autobiography of Mark Twain, ed. Charles Neider (New York: Harper Collins, 1990), p. 4. I read it on Google Books, but I want the physical thing for Christmas.

Why Buying an Electronic Bookreader is a Bad Idea

BookNinja has a reference to an interesting article on why buying an electronic book reader is a bad idea—at least at this time. Remember Eight Track?

No further comment!

Monday, November 23, 2009


I came across the Lo-Fi Manifesto by following a link from Douglas Barone, to whose review of DEVONthink I referred in yesterday's post. He himself seems to have implemented himself a "low-fi" or simple approach with his File System Manger that relies on a text editor, text files and consistent file naming.

Here is the statement of Lo-fi production technologies. They are said to be "stable and free. They consist of and/or can retrograde to:
  1. Plain text files (.txt, .xml, .htm, .css, .js, etc.)
  2. Plain text editors (Notepad, TextEdit, pico/nano, vi, etc.)
  3. Standardized, human-readable forms of open languages expressed in plain text (XML, XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.)
  4. Single-media files (image, audio, video) in open formats
Despite their humble, decades-old base technology (plain text), innovative uses of lo-fi technologies can be remarkably hi-fi, as in the case of AJAX (whose most famous application may be Google’s Gmail service)."

I think this approach is "commendable" and "ingenious," even though it is more trouble than it is worth. What you really want for a complicated (or life-long) data-store is a database. What you also want is easy import and export capabilities that reliably allow you to transform your content into plain text files, HTML or whatever you desire. You should not always have to work with these simple formats and their inherent limitations. The only applications you should definitely avoid are those that "lock you in" or make it difficult to export to plain text.

To use text files in the way described by adherents of this method seems to me the equivalent of mowing a five acre meadow with a Push Reel Mower. Heroic ... perhaps, but not the smartest use of effort and time.

No further comment!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

On "Dating" DEVONthink

Here is an interesting (and critical) take on DevonThink, the highly regarded Mac outliner/pim. To say the least, it is very different from Steven Johnson's positive account. I tend to agree with the more critical view. (See also Lyrical Connections.)

No further comment!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Textweb is an application styled as a "hypertext notepad for windows." The manual compares it with an HTML editor only to point out that "unlike HTML editors, Textweb does not focus on the presentation of linked information. Textweb focuses on the editing of linked information as a way to facilitate verbal thinking about complex ideas and systems." It is "intended to help record and think about complex networks of ideas, things, or people, and their interactions. It is particularly helpful for those who frequently must enter new conceptual territory, and make sense of what they find there."

In other words, it a tool that allows one to establish and refine connections between ideas. It works like a Wiki. But it has not seen any development in a long time and lacks many of the features that characterizes an up-to-date desktop wiki application like ConnectedText.[1] Therefore it seems to me only of historical interest at this time.

1. See Corral floating facts and thoughts with ConnectedText.

Sontag on Lists and Collections

Susan Sontag seems to have been an inveterate collector and list maker. This is most clearly revealed in her novel The Volcano Lover, in which one of the nameless characters finds: "I'm checking on what's in the world. What's left. What's discarded. What's no longer cherished. What had to be sacrificed. What someone thought might interest someone else ... there may be something valuable, there. Not valuable, exactly. But something I would want. Want to rescue. Something that speaks to me. To my longings." For her (or her characters), "collecting expresses a free-floating desire that attaches and re-attaches itself—it is a succession of desires. The true collector is not in the grip of what is collected but of collecting."

And collecting leads to making lists: One wants to know what one has: "collecting is a species of insatiable desire ... there [is] ... a ledger somewhere ... But lists are a much more spiritual enterprise for the athlete of material and mental acquisitiveness. The list is itself a collection, a sublimated collection.
What you like.
What you have done.
What the world has in it.
What you actually have."
The maker of lists is essentially skeptical. She does not know for certain that what she has collected corresponds to any real purpose at all. It is enough that it is collectible. This is not enough for a lover. "The soul of the lover is the opposite of the collector's. The defect or blemish is part of the charm. A lover is never a sceptic." Nor is a lover a list-maker. That comes later ...

This account seems to be closer to the truth than Umberto Eco's musings—at least as far as I am concerned.[1] Both views seem to be influenced by Roland Barthes, another lover of lists (in my collection).[2]

1. See Umberto Eco on Lists.
2. See also Collecting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Umberto Eco on Lists

Umberto Eco claims in an interview in Der Spiegel that "the list is the origin of culture. It's part of the history of art and literature." And: "We also have completely practical lists -- the shopping list, the will, the menu -- that are also cultural achievements in their own right." While we might think "that a list is primitive and typical of very early cultures, which had no exact concept of the universe and were therefore limited to listing the characteristics they could name. But, in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures."

This must be true, even though it is not very interesting. Making a list is often an end in itself. And sometimes it is the beginning of serious engagement with what we take care to list. Among other things, lists are primitive outlines.

Eco has more "interesting" things to say, however: People have never stopped "describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone ... One could go into great detail." And: "we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die."

This must be false, even though it is very interesting—not because of what it reveals about lists, but about Eco himself. Lists qua lists have as little to do with falling in love as they have to do with our fear of dying. The first and last things we list are likely things. They may be things we love, but they may also be things we need or want to avoid.

Listing things is a formal way of taking note of things we want to remember, it is not primarily a device for making love or escaping what is inevitable. None of this means, of course, that we cannot, like Eco, (ab)use lists in this or many other ways which I do not care to list here.

As for my love of lists, I am sure it has nothing to do with not wanting to die.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Linked Notes

Linked Notes is a Net 2.0 application.

It is a basic desktop wiki application with automatic linking of pages and WYSIWYG editing. It has basic outlining capabilities and supports export the export of single pages to txt and rtf. It's pretty slick.

On the negative side, its search capability is weak and its feature set rather limited. The search is limited to the page that happens to be open.

Linked Notes comes in two versions: one is free (and this is the one I tested); the other one costs 19.95. The paid version allows password protection and encryption, as well as export of all pages to one rtf file (for import into a word processing application). It also allows for a word search of all pages.

It's the best of the simple desktop wiki applications I know of. While it is no competition to ConnectedText, it seems much more capable than Zulupad, for instance. At first sight it looks very much like Wikidpad.

I would characterize it as "wordpad with wiki links," no more, but certainly also no less.

Will I use it? No! It's like a bike with training wheels ...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Comparison of Outliners

This is a continuation of the earlier comparison of outliners. At the end of the post I introduced ConnectedText's then new outlining feature. It has evolved quite a bit since that post. One of the most exciting features is that it now supports hoisting as well. Indeed, it is so capable that I think it would be an excellent application even apart from ConnectedText itself. The outline I post here lists the most essential features. (Just click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Compared with the application that is making a lot of noise right now in the Outliner Forum right now, it is definitely much more mature and polished.

The application is a new single-pane outliner. It is called UVOutliner. While it looks good, it does very little.

  • Multiline Rich Text: Each row in the outline can have multiple lines of a rich text. This means that you can format rows in the outline like in any word processor - you can specify colors, font sizes, etc.
  • Styles allow you to specify how to format rows in certain hierarchies. Automatic styling also helps you format the document uniformly while typing.
  • Export: outlines can be exported to plain text or HTML.

I prefer the ConnectedText Outliner—and I do so not just because all my work is deeply connected with this application. I would also prefer TkOutline over this new application, which is really rudimentary, that is, very limited. Yet it requires a framework that when loaded uses more 100 megabytes of memory all by itself.


From the "I-wish-there-was-something-like-this-for-the-PC" department:

This is a screenshot of an older version that I tried when I had an iBook. What I like is that the outline produces a simple diagram. Simple is good sometimes.


I have referred to this before. It is advertised as a notepad on crack. The application is not as bad as the description, but neither is it as good as some other personal or desktop wikis, which are available for Windows.

Do I need to say that Zulupad is a pale imitation of Voodoopad, a Mac application?

The advertisement says "Zulupad is now available in two flavors: The original ZuluPad is opensource under the GPL, and ZuluPad Pro can be purchased for $15." I am not sure whether this means that the one contains less crack because I don't know whether crack has any flavor.

Still, I would stay away from it, no matter what its flavor may be.

No further comment!

WikiReader Software

"Just click on any word in any Windows application and the WikiPedia article will be opened in a small window."

WikiReader, a Windows application, caches articles "for quick and easy access; articles can even be read when the computer is not connected to the Internet."

I have just as little use for this software application as I have for the hardware called WikiReader, but perhaps some others dp.

No further comment!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This appears to be no joke. There is a thing called WikiReader, that is, a standalone Wikipedia browser with a touch screen and the complete text of Wikipedia on a memory card. It only displays text, no images or files. It can't access the Internet either.

Apparently it costs $99.00. A one-year "subscription" for newer versions of Wikipedia costs another $29.00.

A Netbook would not be that much more expensive in the long run. What kind of useless device will they think of next?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Darnton on Commonplace Books

Robert Darnton claims in "Mysteries of Reading," Chapter 10 of The Case for Books that "when readers kept commonplace books," they read differently from today: "Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life ... It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality" (149f., see also 169).

This account is misleading in several ways:
  1. Commonplace books go back to antiquity, Erasmus's Copia is in some sense a faint echo of the practices of Seneca and Plinius. See Seneca on Gathering Ideas. There is nothing specifically "early modern" about them or the way of note-taking they favored. The only difference is that they were based on paper books, not on papyrus rolls.
  2. Modern readers—especially academic readers—tend to read in fits and starts as well. Just see Luhmann on Learning How to Read and Luhmann's Zettelkasten. Indeed, doing research with a slipbox largely depends on not following the narrative flow from beginning to end. It involves jumping from book to book and making entries "under an appropriate heading" on index cards and breaking the text into fragments to be re-assembled later. Such readers, of which I am one, later re-assemble the information into new patterns by shuffling the cards or re-arranging the notebooks. So, nothing would seem to have changed in this regard. However,
  3. It is a fundamental mistake to think that the commonplaces were arbitrary headings that could be re-arranged at will to "make" sense of the world. Commonplaces were "common places," i.e. places that everyone would recognize as places. They expressed the fixed nature of the closed universe in which the Renaissance thinkers were thinking and living. They did not make sense, they discovered pre-existing sense that they thought was independent from their subjective musings. In this context, the commonplace book would be your own book only in the sense that it contained your selection of the many (or copious) meanings that the world held independently of your subjective effort to understand it. In fact, notebooks "stamped with your personality" were later inventions, presupposing a universe not ordered by God or Nature. They clearly post-date Locke's suggestion to alphabetize one's commonplace book and are a much more recent phenomenon.
  4. Nor did commonplace books make their keepers into "authors" in any interesting sense, just because it did not force them "to write their own books" (170). They were copyists, no more no less.
  5. Commonplace books may have allowed their keepers to develop "a still sharper sense of themselves," but not "of themselves as autonomous individuals." They would more likely have become aware of being creatures, "driven and derided by vanity," largely dependent, if not on God's mercy, then on the forces of the universe.

The discovery of autonomy is, of course, an interesting story that has some interesting precedents in the Renaissance and Protestantism, but even Luther's "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders" is not so much an expression of autonomy as it is one of obedience to God. "So help me God" is the proper conclusion of this expression of defiance. Indeed, autonomy is not expressed in commonplace books. The ascend of the notion of autonomy rather wenht hand in hand with the decline of commonplacing, or so I would argue

Darnton on Books

I just bought Robert Darnton's The Case for Books. Past, Present and Future (New York: Public Affairs, 2009). It consists of a selection of essays on "the book" and "the Internet," written between 1982 and 2009. Most of them are form between 2000 and 2009, however.

The collection is presented as "an unashamed apology for the printed word, past, present, and future," which does not deplore "electronic modes of communication" (vii). I have read most of the articles already, and I mainly bought it for the early ones, like "What is the History of Book" from 1982 and "Extraordinary Commonplaces" from 2000, which are not easily obtainable in other form.

Only the Introduction is strictly speaking new. What I liked most about it is a quote from a letter of Niccolo Perotti to Francesco Guarnerio written in 1471, (i.e. two decades after Gutenberg):

"My dear Francesco, I have lately kept praising the age in which we live, because of the great, indeed divine gift of the new kind of writing which was recently bbrought to us from Germany. In fact, I saw a single man printing in a single month as much as could be written by hand by several persons in a year. ... It was for this reason that I was led to hope that within a short time we would have such a large quantity of books that there wouldn't be a single work which could not be procured ... Yet—oh false and all too human thoughts—I see that things turned out quite differently [...] now that everyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still, be erased from all books. and even when they write something worthwhile they twist and corrupt it to the point where it would be much better to do without such books [...]"

The Internet did not change all that much.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Heidegger on Language and Thought

Heidegger "spricht" German (with English subtitles).[1]

No further comment!

1. See also Typewriters and Thinking

Saturday, October 10, 2009


A nice and informative post on an old application.

No further comment!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rousseau on Writing

Rousseau lamented how long it took him to write, finding: "My scratched, written-over, muddled and illegible manuscripts bespeak the trouble they have cost me to write them. There is not one that I have not had to transcribe three two four times before sending it to the printer. I have never been able to do anything pen-in-hand, at a desk. It is on my walks among the rocks and trees, or at night, during my sleepless hours in bed, that I do my writing in my head and it may be guessed how slowly it all proceeds, especially for a man who has no verbal memory and has never been able to learn twenty verses by heart in his life. There are paragraphs which I have turned over and over in my mind for five or six nights in succession before they have been in fit shape to be put on paper."

Perhaps it would have been better, if he had committed the paragraphs to paper right away. See also Thinking on paper and the necessity of failure and Thinking on paper.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Greatness and the Absence of Footnotes

Let's call call "Searle's Principle" the belief that "philosophical quality varies inversely with the number of bibliographical references, and that no great work of philosophy ever contained a lot of footnotes."[1]

It appears that Searle came to hold this belief on the basis of "reading books by Wittgenstein, Austin, Strawson, Ryle, Hare, etc." Ryle's book, at least by this criterion, is the best just because it has none. It's just as easy as counting calories, and, as everyone knows, the fewer the calories, the better the quality of the food.

Never mind either that footnotes are a relatively recent phenomenon because it seems that nothing before Wittgenstein counts anyway. Kant, who, of course, does not show up in the Index, would be less than great, as there are several footnotes in most of his works.[2] Hume would not make the list of first-rate philosophical authors either.

Searle's principle seems to me just an expression of the kind of unthinking hubris philosophy can do without.

1. John R. Searle, (1992) The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge: MIT University Press, 1992), p. xiv.

2. But an Index is not important either, or so it may seem. On p. 17, we find, for instance, "... Kant's commonsense distinction between the appearances of things and things in themselves eventually led to the extremes of absolute idealism ..." Call me a stickler for details, but what may seem to us as a commonsense distinction was for Kant anything but ... and whether Kant's distinction straightforwardly "led to" the extremes of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel is at least an open question.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Which Are Better, Pens or Pencils?

An interesting discussion whose conclusion is: "What you choose to write with for your own personal use and pleasure is a decision that you and you alone must make and you and you alone can make. There's no right or wrong here, or best or worse, just you personal feeling for a device that suits your needs and satisfies your desires."

I would agree, though I mostly use mechanical pencils these days, since they are best for underlining and making marginal notes in books. What I used to do with pens, I now usually do with some sort of keyboard.

But don't just read the post for the conclusion.

No further comment!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Noguchi Filing system

I had come across this before. But this is a very clear description of the Time Sort (Noguchi) Filing System.

No further comment!

Effective Concept Maps

Here is a scholarly paper that investigates the "foundations" of the effective use of concept maps.[1] I am a bit dubious about "foundation-talk" applying to "effective use" or "tools," but I guess "foundation" means something different in educational psychology from what it means in philosophy. In any case, the paper contains some interesting observations.

I especially like
  • the emphasis on questions
  • the distinction between static and dynamic maps, which leads to
  • the distinction between concept maps that deal with events as opposed to objects, and
  • the claim that "concept maps modeled with a circular structure ... lead to significantly more instances of meaningful or dynamic propositions when compared with concept maps modeled with a tree-like structure"

It's not that I agree with all they say. It seems to me a bit too naive to say that "Objects or things are key building blocks of the universe, and they are also key building block of knowledge. We use words, usually nouns, to label objects. Events are the other key building blocks of the universe, and also for knowledge." Events are not blocks, and the universe is no lego model.

Still, the distinction between static and dynamic maps seems to be me worthy of further thought. And it does seem to be true that when "we focus on events, we are usually asking how something happens, and concept maps emphasizing events, using verbs, ... tend to be richer in explanations, whereas concept maps focused on objects tend to be more descriptive." It may also be true that concept maps showing explanations require deeper or more dynamic thinking.

1. The link come to you thanks to WikIT.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Diagramr is a Website that allows you to draw diagrams by simply typing in sentences. The following diagram was created by typing:
Leibniz influenced Kant
Leibniz influenced Wolff
Leibniz influenced Baumgarten
Wolff influenced Baumgarten
Woff influenced Kant
Baumgarten influenced Kant

There are some ways to modify the resulting diagram, you can drag it into your desktop applications or reference it and include it in your Website, but I think the diagrams cannot be too elaborate, i.e. not much more elaborate of what you see here. Interesting idea, though.

I'd wish there was a desktop application like this.[1]

1. See also the earlier post on yUml.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Outlines and Hypertext

According to common wisdom, Outliners and Hypertext are contradictory or at least contrary. Outliners unify information and provide clear insight into its structure, while “there is a point at which wikis become more trouble than the’re worth and they end up creating a mass of organized but fragmented information.”[A comment by Jack Crawford in the Outliner Forum that I frequent.]

It is true, a Hypertext or a Wiki allows for “unlimited internal branching,” since it does not commit you to a pre-defined structure. It also allows for meaningful clusters among the pieces that make up the information, while at the same time always keeping open the possibility of structuring and re-structuring the information (like an outliner). But there is not contradiction between this and outlining.[1] Perhaps it might be said that a a hypertextual (or wiki-like) database is like a two- or many-dimensional outliner. Hypertext and outlining are thus complementary and not opposed (as common wisdom has it).

Perhaps a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Here is a Graph of some of the Information of my Database in the newest version of ConnectedText (version 4) that will come out every day now:

To enlarge, click on picture.

It just presents the first two levels of branching in a database of almost 8000 entries. Clicking on any of the boxes will take you to the topic it refers to, which could have graphs that show even more detail.

Properly constructed, a wiki does not lead to fragmented, but to deeply connected information, like a multi-dimensional outliner.

1. See also Outlines and Meshes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On the Writing Process

An interesting post on Daily Writing about the "writing process." It identifies "five stages of writing" as "a framework for writing well and easily."

They say: "You might want to bookmark this post so that you can come back to it each time you start on a new article, blog post, essay or story: use it as a checklist to help you." Not a bad idea.

No further comment!

Montesquieu on Notes and Principles

Montesquieu wrote in the Preface of The Spirit of the Laws: "I have begun and abandoned this work [Spirit of the Laws] any number of times. On a thousand different occasions, I have taken pages and thrown them to the winds. Every day I have felt my paternal hands fail. I followed my objective, but without forming any fixed plan. I could identify neither rules nor exceptions to them; I found the truth only to lose it. But once I discovered my principles, everything I had been seeking came to me, and in the course of twenty yeas, I have seen my work begin, grow, advance, and come to its end."

Almost anyone who has ever worked on a large project can probably identify with these sentiments. But Carl L. Becker is one person who could not. Thus he accused Montesquieu of fudging "the facts." He sneeringly observed that "the 'facts' meant nothing to him until he discovered the principles which they were to illustrate." (See The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932), p. 104.) He then goes on to accuse the enlightenment philosophers on the basis of this passage that they started from general principles and not from facts, even though Montesquieu's passage shows just the opposite, namely that he wrestled with the facts until he could formulate general principles.

But there is a difference between (i) searching for the principles that might explain the facts, and (ii) seeking principles that might be illustrated by the facts. The first approach is an attempt to establish a necessary relation between facts and principles, the other approach is interested in the accidental relation of embellishment. It is important to understand this difference in one's research, even if one might also be skeptical about the possibility of the kind of explanation Montesquieu aimed at.

Becker's main thesis, namely the claim that "the philosophes demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild them with more up-to-date materials" (31) is well-illustrated, but it does not serve to explain a whole lot about the enlightenment.

Reading Montesquieu is more profitable.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Gazette is a very rudimentary personal wiki.[1]

They say: "Gazette is a small, fast, personal wiki for keeping notes, & whatnot. Gazette 'folds' a document into pages, and allows you to cross-reference those pages in any order. This folding/linking metaphor makes it easy to have several topics within a single file, an ideal method for organizing information, creating glossaries, distributed documentation, courseware, cheatsheets, ebooks and more..."

I say: The price, $22.95, is far too high. The program does nothing that The Notebook does not do (better) for free. And it doesn't do many of the things that The Notebook does. Zulupad is the personal wiki application with the most stupid description. It's supposed to be "a notepad on crack"—whatever that may mean. Still, it is both cheaper ($15.00) and more capable as well. I would say that even the free version of Zulupad is just as capable as Gazette

But, if you are willing to spend $22.95, you would be far better off purchasing ConnectedText for just a few dollars more ($29.95). It is ultimately a much better value than any of the others mentioned in this post.

1. Sunday, November 01, 2009: The Website seems to be down. But it can still be downloaded from here: Brothersoft.

Update: The link has gone dead and the application is no longer available. I noticed it on February 1, 2015, but it was probably dead for a while.

Data versus Metadata

An artificial distinction? See also Fluidinfo, which is supposed to be a "cloud database," but not a wiki.

Without further comment!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why GTD does not Work for those who Write

Paul Graham argues in an insightful post on the essential difference between a maker's schedule and a manager's schedule that the two don't mix. "The manager's schedule is for bosses. It's embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you're doing every hour." On the other hand, "people who make things, like programmers and writers ... generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started."

Seems true to me, even though I also think it is better to try and get started on things when one has an hour or two than not even to try. There is always note-taking or research to do, in any case.

It does seem to be true, however, that GTD is an approach well-suited to those who manage, not to those who create. Since we all also need to manage, we may be misled into thinking it is well-designed for the most important parts of our lives as well. But it isn't

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Empty Notebooks and Empty Minds

The holidays are almost over. We spent the first half of August in Germany. Hence the lack of posting.

One of the first things I read back in the U.S.A. was Alex Beam, A Great Idea at the Time. The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books (New York: Public Affairs, 2008). The book is being "remaindered," and that's the time when I purchase a book of its type.

It's interesting and gives some insight into the peculiarly American phenomenon of the Great Books movement is characterized by a combination of high ideals, low intellectual standards, and rampant hucksterism. I found historically interesting the disdain Mortimer Adler had of Leo Strauss and "Straussians" in general, though the book does not really investigate the significant continuities and discontinuities of these movements to any extent.

I also found the chapter on St. John's (Annapolis) interesting. One of the slogans characteristic of this program is "a full notebook betokens an empty mind" (173). This pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with St. John's and the Great Books. While it is true that a full notebook may indeed be the sign of someone who does not see the forest for the trees, an empty notebook is a much better indicator of a mindless person, that is, a person, who does not find it necessary to take note of anything in order to reflect on it later, to develop her thoughts and critically develop them. Sustained intellectual development without proper note-taking is absolutely impossible for most of us.

The slogan goes well with the disdain for reading texts in their original language, the aversion to footnotes that contextualize and explain the historical background of a book, be it great or not, and the fetishization of the supposedly "Socratic" discussion of texts in what would be a vacuum, if it were not pervaded by the inevitable prejeduces of twentieth-century interior decorators of the vaguely intellectual kind.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lichtenberg's Wastebook

Johann Georg Lichtenberg, the great German writer of aphorisms, wrote "Merchants have a Waste Book (Sudelbuch, Klitterbuch) into which they inscribe everything they buy and sell (from day to day, everything muddled, with no order; out of this it is transferred to the journal, where everything is more systematic, and finally it comes into a Ledger at double entrance in the Italian manner of book-keeping .. This deserves to be imitated by by scholars. First a book into which I write everything as I see it or as my first thoughts come to me, this can then be transferred to another book, where the materials are more separated and more ordered, and the ledger could then contain the connections and the explanation of the subject in a proper style."

So, conceived of the process that took him from note-taking to a connected text as consisting of three stages:
  • first, capturing or recording things without attention to order or clarity in a notebook

  • second, separating different items, putting them into some order, and re-entering the information it in another book

  • third, formulating the problem and its solution, by giving an explanation that establishes the connection between its "parts"

So, he processed the stuff that he had collected at least twice (or, if you count the first writing down, three times).

We tend to forget that "digesting" the information we gather is important, more important than simoly collecting it. We need to "digest" it, as Bacon said. And our tools can help us in doing so, but they cannot do it for us.

In fact, many people seem to think that they should "automate" and "streamline" their interaction with the material they want to write about. This is counter-productive. You should interact with the materials as much as you can. "Thinking is not the shortest distance between two points" (Hans Blumenberg).

To Kindle or Not to Kindle

A nice discussion of the Kindle by one of my favorite authors:
"A New Page: Can the Kindle really improve on the book?" by Nicholson Baker in The New Yorker.

I might get an iPod Touch, after all!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I have been following Ulysses for some time. It is an editor for the Mac that was an inspiration for Scrivener. It still shares some fundamental features with Scrivener. Both Ulysses and Scrivener favor something they call "non-linear writing"—a trendy new name for something that has always been part of all creative writing.

I was more than just surprised when I visited the newly-designed Website of the developers recently. They now call themselves "The Soulmen," and no longer "The Blue Technology Group." I very much dislike the new theme, but you should remember I am old and use a PC. Still, this kind of Germanic "hip" or "cool" is lost on me (and I would suppose most people who would be interested in their product won't appreciate it either).

Ulysses in its second incarnation is billed as "the semantic editor" and is available in two versions: Ulysses 2 and Ulysses Core. The latter promises not just semantic editing but "focused semantic text editing." It's a "stripped-down version of Ulysses 2.0; it's built on the same foundation, but more geared towards casual writers and those on tighter budgets." Why this allows "focused semantic text editing" remains a little unclear. Ulysses is called the semantic editor because it "borrows concepts from Setext and LaTeX. It truly separates content from presentation, written input from printed output. You’ll not assign font-weights and colors to emphasize words or mark introductory paragraphs; you’ll define “headlines” and “comments” and structure and meaning." I guess "stripped down" is a synonym for "focused" here.

Let me be sure, I have nothing against Ulysses. It's an interesting program, and I would be glad, if something like that were available for Windows. It's just the packaging ... It may be that they are the "Leader of the Pack," and it may also be true that "since its original release in 2003, Ulysses’ interface and feature-set have quickly become the blueprint for a whole plethora of similar products on Mac OS X." But it is definitely false that "it has literally sparked a creative writing revolution on platform [sic], forever redefining the way writers will work with their texts. It all started here, and we’re *so* not finished yet." Take that, you "Scriveners!"

I am "so" not "into" that!

In any case, I did not want to write about Ulysses, but about Stapler, their new "Single-Document-Multi-Notes-To-Do-List."

As they put it, "Stapler is a small application which blends certain aspects of classic notepads, outliners and check lists. You can think of it as a foldable notepad. Or a multi-document to-do list. - Or a foldable multi-document single-file to-do list slash next-generation notepad on steroids." Or: "Take it. Stack it. Move it. Fold it. There, you have it."

I am tempted to point out that I prefer my applications without steroids, but I won't ... (just mentioned the temptation, didn't "point out")

In any case, it reminds me of CintaNotes and Quotepad for the PC, which seem to do pretty much everything that Stapler does, but also allow you to save the clipboard quickly. The only advantage, if it is an advantage, is that Stapler saves rtf files, while CintaNotes and QuotePlus are restricted to text files. On the other hand, Stapler costs €7.99.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aduna Autofocus and ConnectedText

ConnectedText has several backup options. One of these backs up every topic in Connectedtext in a Backup Directory. This directory can be indexed and accessed outside ConnectedText itself, which is sometimes useful.

I recently stumbled across Aduna AutoFocus, a semantic clustering application. "AutoFocus has the ability to scans all the places where you expect valuable information and provides powerful means for retrieving that information. The important advantage over similar tools is that AutoFocus presents the search results using facets and Cluster Maps. Facets allow to find documents on more than just keywords and the visualisation provided by the Cluster Maps allows you to see how files, web pages or emails are related."

I do expect valuable information in my ConnectedText database. In fact, I do not just expect there to be valuable information. I am positive there is. And ConnectedText allows you to get at it in many ways.

But this application adds something new. Among other things, it
  • presents the search results in a Cluster Map for better overview

  • facets show what metadata is available in sources

  • significant terms summarize clusters and suggest search refinements

"The birds-eye view helps you gain insight in information that is available on combinations of keywords. In each step of your search it shows the number of documents that match your search (and of course a link to the documents themselves) so that you can effectively zoom in to find what you seek."

All you have to do is to index the Backup folder of your favorite project and run some searches. Here is a sample search:

[Click picture, to enlarge!]

The cluster map shows interesting connections and relations. For an explanation of how these clusters should be read, see this.

Selecting a cluster results in the corresponding files being shown in the file viewer. Clicking on any of the file names opens the file in Notepad.

It's licensed by an Open Software Source Licence, free for private use.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Samuel Johnson, Note-taking, and Procrastination

Samuel Johnson published on June 29, 1751 an essay on procrastination in The Rambler. In it, he dealt with procrastination for the sake of idleness and the more insidious kind of procrastination that might well exhibit itself in note-taking at the expense of writing:

"There are other causes of inactivity incident to more active faculties and more acute discernment. He to whom many objects of pursuit arise at the same time, will frequently hesitate between different desires till a rival has precluded him, or change his course as new attractions prevail, and harass himself without advancing. He who sees different ways to the same end, will, unless he watches carefully over his own conduct, lay out too much of his attention upon the comparison of probabilities and the adjustment of expedients, and pause in the choice of his road, till some accident intercepts his journey. He whose penetration extends to remote consequences, and who, whenever he applies his attention to any design, discovers new prospects of advantage and possibilities of improvement, will not easily be persuaded that his project is ripe for execution; but will superadd one contrivance to another, endeavour to unite various purposes in one operation, multiply complications, and refine niceties, till he is entangled in his own scheme, and bewildered in the perplexity of various intentions. He that resolves to unite all the beauties of situation in a new purchase must waste his life in roving to no purpose from province to province. He that hopes in the same house to obtain every convenience may draw plans and study Palladio, but will never lay a stone. He will attempt a treatise on some important subject, and amass materials, consult authors, and study all the dependent and collateral parts of learning, but never conclude himself qualified to write. He that has abilities to conceive perfection will not easily be content without it; and, since perfection cannot be reached, will lose the opportunity of doing well in the vain hope of unattainable excellence."

Perfectionism and Procrastination are closely connected.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Luminotes is now free. You can download the desktop version of this rather rudimentary wiki (Windows and Linux).

I did, and I don't particularly like it.

But I am sure some people will like it just because it is so simple, not to say primitive.

It resides in your Webbrowser. These are the instructions:

'To make a new wiki note, click the "+" button on the left. Start by typing a title for your new note and then press enter. Next, type the contents of your new note, using the formatting buttons on the left for things like bold, italics, or lists.'

'To link one note to another, click the "Link" button on the left, type a note title, and then click the button again. Or, you can just highlight some text and click the "Link" button.'

'To follow a link to another note, just click on the link and the note will open up for you to view or edit. You can switch between notes simply by clicking on them, and hide notes by clicking the "hide" button.'

Several topics can be open at the same time. The look and feel reminds me of "TiddlyWiki."

The Search function is rudimentary: "You can quickly search the contents of every note in the all of your notebooks for a particular word or even several words. Just type in what you're searching for in the search box on the right side of the page, and then press enter."

It also runs from your USB-Drive.

Conclusion: No competition for ConnectedText!

Note, Thursday, June 10, 2010: See The End of Luminotes.

A Medieval Card Index?

C. S. Lewis, claims in his The Discarded Image. An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambride University Press, 1964) on p. 10: "At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. ... There was nothing which medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting things out and tidying up. Of all our inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index."

He does, of course, mean a card index of the systematic sort, the kind whose electronic equivalent is the outliner (not the Luhmannian sort that is designed to leave systematic distinctions open as much as possible).

So, by extension, one might also argue that "medieval man" was an outliner. But this is clearly false, as outlines were invented only in the sixteent century. Petrus Ramus wrote 1543 in the Dialecticae partitiones: "Sett forthe shortly the some of the text, which thou hast taken in hand to interprete: next... porte thy text into a fewe heads that the auditor may the better retaine thy sayings: Thirdly ... intreate of every heade in his owne place with the ten places of invention ... and last ... make thy matter playne and manifest with familiar examples & aucthorities out of the worde of God ..."

Medieval thinkers probably would not have understood the intricacies of the card index, nor were they outliners. They were inveterate list makers. Most of these lists were flat. Many of them rather short. Some of them were even hierarchical, such as the three triads of angels, but most of them would have lacked the intricacy that is made possible by the graphical representation of outlines that can be found in Ramist texts.

Having said this, I admit that the difference between lists and outlines is fluid, and that Ramus's invention was therefore not without precedent.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Some of the Most Beautiful Libraries of the World

Borges once wrote that he "always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." I share this sentiment.

Without further comment!


Wagn is an interesting wiki implementation. It's a "real" wiki, requiring a server, not one of the personal or desktop wiki implementations that I prefer.

"In Wagn, everything is a card." And I like that, even if I don't quite see why this makes Wagn special.

It's written in Ruby, which needs to be installed for it to work.

It's quite a bit over-hyped: "We really hope Wagn will continue to do good in the world by making it easier for people to collaborate on, organize, and trumpet their ideas in profound and meaningful ways."

To be sure, we need more people, who "trumpet their ideas in profound and meaningful ways."

Or do we? I'd actually be more interested in more profound and meaningful ideas, not in more profound and meaningful trumpeting, which seems to me a contradictio in adiecto.

There are two ways to install and maintain it. Either you do it yourself or you pay them a consulting fee.


Twine is a free application for Windows and the Mac that is designed for building "interactive" stories, something that used to be called "text adventures." It can also be described as a hypertext builder.

From their Website: "Twine lets you organize your story graphically with a map that you can re-arrange as you work. Links automatically appear on the map as you add them to your passages, and passages with broken links are apparent at a glance. As you write, focus on your text with a fullscreen editing mode like Dark Room. Rapidly switch between a published version of your story and the editable one as you work."

On the twine website, they call this "visual thinking," which is perhaps a bit over the top.

Twine uses wiki-like formatting and linking. Once you are done with the story, you can compile it in various formats, including two TiddlyWiki formats.

I have no interest in writing stories—interactive or otherwise. But I do find the interface interesting for thinking about issues. Each window contains a paragraph or a thought. These paragraphs can be linked and tagged in various ways. Since you can drag them around at will, you get an interactive view of their relations much like you would in a mind map. But twine appears to be more flexible in some ways. What is mapped are not keywords, but paragraphs.

While twine is designed for fiction, it can also be made to work for non-fiction—or so it seems to me. I am not sure I would use it very much, but I do think that the multi-window approach to what is essentially a personal wiki is extremely interesting.

I doubt, however, that this approach will work for "grand narratives." It is probably better suited to smaller chunks of reality. It's the electronic equivalent of sorting index cards into the "proper" order, after having produced a rough draft with them.

The compiled version of "stories" could probably also be used effectively in the distribution of some teaching materials.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An RTF Desktop Wiki, Using AutoHotKey and RoughDraft

This is another version of a desktop wiki, using AutoHotKey. In this incarnation I use the freeware Word Processor Roughdraft, available at Richard Salsbury's Website, as a basis for this script.

Again, the AHK script produces and executes wiki-like links to files in the same directory. Each wiki-page is a separate RTF file, and the script allows for all the Wysywyg features that Roughdraft supports.

This script creates an editor that has wiki-like links to other files in the same directory. Each wiki-page is a separate rtf file. It will thus be preferable to some people over a Plaintext Wiki.

As in the first script, all wiki-files should be placed into their own directory, and two files must be present at all times, which are in the case of this script "Home.rtf" (with the extension) and "garbage.txt". The latter is is used in creating new pages. The links created with this script in this application are not case sensitive.

To create a link, I suggest that you color a word blue, which is easily done in Roughdraft by pressing “^!T” (after you have first set blue in the color selection control). To stop color, you need to press “^!R”. You may also enclose the link in brackets, if you want. But strictly it is not necessary.[1]

Selecting a word and pressing ALT-L will launch the linked page in a new Tab. If there is no linked page, it will create the page and open it in a new Tab. If the page is already open in a Tab, it will just switch to that Tab. AlLT-D will delete both the link and the file, but it will not remove the reference to the file in other wiki-pages. The script cannot automatically rename the files corresponding to the links, but that should be easy to implement.

You can also have a list of all the files in the Wiki Directory (to the right or left of the text, as you wish). Roughdraft usually also displays the drives, but you can force it not to do so by moving the Drive Window all the way to the top.

While the wiki-capabilities are very rudimentary at this point, they do provide the basics. There is still a lot to do. I will probably introduce a couple of new features soon, but ...

I have also tested the script with other rich text editors, and the results are spotty. Wordpad works, Jarte (which is based on Wordpad) does not. I have chosen Roughdraft because it is fairly capable, free, and handles color better than some of the other editors I tried.

I should perhaps also point out that I first adapted the script to make it work with other basic text editors, like Notepad. It works, as long as the editors don’t have fancy controls for saving and opening files. (Notetab Pro did not work—at least not easily. But it has some of this capability out of the box). The most important thing was to slow down the pasting of file names by introducing a “Sleep” and the only difference between that script and the present one is that it substitutes “txt” for “rtf”.

I hope someone will find this useful (and perhaps even improve it) Again, I will probably not use it very much, as I am wedded to ConnectedText and don't find rtf capability that important.[2]

1. The script will happily create and launch links from any word. The color (and brackets) are necessary only to identify the words with links.

2. Here is the script:

clipboard =
Send ^c
clipboard = %clipboard%
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard,`],, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`[,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`.,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`,,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`;,, All
Gosub, FileSave
Gosub, FileRead

clipboard =
Send ^x
clipboard = %clipboard%
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard,`],, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`[,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`.,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`,,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`;,, All
Send %clipboard%
Gosub FileDelete

Send !Fs

IfExist, %clipboard%.rtf
Send !Fo
Sleep, 100
Send %clipboard%.rtf{Enter}
Gosub Copy

FileCopy, garbage.txt, %clipboard%.rtf
Gosub FileRead

FileDelete, %clipboard%.rtf

Sunday, June 28, 2009


This is my version of a plain-text desktop wiki in AHK. I used the "Scripting Pad" at the AHK Forum as a basis for this application.

AhkWikiPad is just a simple editor that allows wiki-like links to other files (typically in the same directory as the application). Each wiki-page is a separate text file.

It should be placed into its own directory. Two files must be present at all times, namely "Home" (no extension) and "garbage.txt", which is used for creating new pages.

Links should be enclosed in double brackets, like so [[Plain-text wiki]]. If the file to which a link refers does not exist, it will be created. Just select the name, including the square brackets, and press CTRL-O to create the page or to jump to the page, if it already exists. The wiki-names are case-sensitive.

CTRL-D will delete both the link and the file, but it does not remove the reference to the file in other wiki-pages. I will need to look into that. AhkWikiPad cannot automatically rename the files corresponding to the links either, but that should be easy to implement. (The bigger problem will be to figure out how to rename the link in all other wiki files.)[1]

So, AhkWikiPad is very rudimentary at this point, but perhaps not bad for the "work" of a rainy Sunday afternoon of just experimenting in order to see whether such a thing a thing is possible.

#SingleInstance off

gui, font, s10, Tahoma
gui, color, FFFFCC

Menu, FileMenu, Add, &Open `tCtrl-Shift-O, FileOpen
Menu, FileMenu, Add, &Save `tCtrl-S, FileSave
Menu, FileMenu, Add, Save &As `tCtrl-Shift-S, FileSaveAs
Menu, FileMenu, Add, E&xit `tCtrl-X, SaveAndExit
Menu, FileMenu, Add, &Discard, Exit
Menu, EditMenu, Add, &Time `tCtrl-T, Time
Menu, EditMenu, add, &Date `tCtrl-D, Date
Menu, MyMenuBar, Add, &File, :FileMenu
Menu, MyMenuBar, Add, &Edit, :EditMenu
Gui, Menu, MyMenuBar

Gui, +Resize
Gui, font, s10
Gui, Add, Edit, vMainEdit WantTab r30 x5 y5,
Gui, Show, w600 x0 y0, AhkWikiPad - untitled
CurrentFileName =
Gosub Initial

FileRead, MainEdit, Home
GuiControl,, MainEdit, %MainEdit%
CurrentFileName = Home
Gui, Show,, AhKWikiPad - %CurrentFileName%

Gosub FileOpen

Gosub FileSave

Gosub FileSaveAs

Gosub SaveAndExit

Gosub Date

Gosub Time

Send %a_Hour%:%A_Min%

Send %a_dddd%, %A_MMMM% %a_DD%, %A_YYYY%

clipboard =
Send ^c
clipboard = %clipboard%
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard,`],, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`[,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`.,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`,,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`;,, All
Gosub FileSave
Gosub WikiRead

clipboard =
Send ^x
clipboard = %clipboard%
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard,`],, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`[,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`.,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`,,, All
Stringreplace, clipboard, clipboard,`;,, All
Gosub FileDelete

FileRead, MainEdit, %clipboard%
if ErrorLevel <> 0
FileCopy garbage.txt, %clipboard%
Gosub WikiRead
FileRead, MainEdit, %clipboard%
GuiControl,, MainEdit, %MainEdit%
CurrentFileName = %clipboard%
Gui, Show,, AhkWikiPad - %CurrentFileName%

FileDelete, %Clipboard%

FileSelectFile, SelectedFileName, 3,, AhkWikiPad - Open File,
if SelectedFileName =
Gosub FileRead

FileRead, MainEdit, %SelectedFileName%
if ErrorLevel <> 0
MsgBox Could not open "%SelectedFileName%".
GuiControl,, MainEdit, %MainEdit%
CurrentFileName = %SelectedFileName%
Gui, Show,, AhKWikiPad - %CurrentFileName%

if CurrentFileName =
Goto FileSaveAs
Gosub SaveCurrentFile

FileSelectFile, SelectedFileName, S16, , AhkWikiPad - save file,
if SelectedFileName =
CurrentFileName = %SelectedFileName%
Gosub SaveCurrentFile
Gui, Show,, AhKWikiPad - %CurrentFileName%

IfExist %CurrentFileName%
FileDelete %CurrentFileName%
if ErrorLevel <> 0
MsgBox The attempt to overwrite "%CurrentFileName%" failed.
GuiControlGet, MainEdit
FileAppend, %MainEdit%, %CurrentFileName%
Gui, Show,, AhkWikipad - %CurrentFileName%

Loop, parse, A_GuiControlEvent, `n
SelectedFileName = %A_LoopField%
Gosub FileRead

if ErrorLevel = 1
NewWidth := A_GuiWidth - 10
NewHeight := A_GuiHeight - 10
GuiControl, Move, MainEdit, W%NewWidth% H%NewHeight%

IfExist %CurrentFileName%
Gosub SaveCurrentFile
IfNotExist %CurrentFileName%
gosub FileSaveAs

IfNotExist %CurrentFileName%
msgbox, 3, AhkWikiPad - exit, Save this new file or not?,
IfMsgBox, Yes
Gosub FileSaveAs
if SelectedFileName =
IfMsgBox, No
IfMsgBox, Cancel
IfExist %CurrentFileName%
msgbox, 3, AhkWikiPad - exit, Save %CurrentFileName% before exit?,
IfMsgBox, Yes
FileDelete %CurrentFileName%
if ErrorLevel <> 0
MsgBox The attempt to overwrite "%CurrentFileName%" failed.
GuiControlGet, MainEdit
FileAppend, %MainEdit%, %CurrentFileName%
IfMsgBox, No
IfMsgBox, Cancel


Perhaps I should use one large text file with labels for wiki pages, rather than separate text files.

On the other hand, I should perhaps not waste any more time on it, as it will never become a serious contender.

1. Notetab cannot do these things either. See Notetab as a Plain-Text Wiki.

Monday, June 22, 2009

How the Brain Treats Tools as Body Parts

This article on the Brain and tools as temporary body parts reports on some interesting research about body schemata.

"Data presented in this review support the idea that tools, by enabling us to extend our reaching space, can become incorporated into a plastic neural representation of our body." Indeed, "humans might have such neural machinery present in the brain from birth or early in life, whereas lower primates seem to need a period of raining to induce behavioural learning ..."

This certainly has implications on the way we use typewriters and software.

On the Gradual Creation of Thoughts While Speaking

The German poet Heinrich von Kleist published in 1805 an essay, entitled "On the Gradual Creation of Thoughts While Speaking."[1] In it, he argued that speaking engenders thinking, and that this is the way it should be, not the other way around.

We often have no clear idea what we want to say when we begin to explain something to someone else. Kleist argues that not only should I not try first to get clear on what I want to say by just thinking about it, but that the effort to put it into speech will actually be more helpful, "because usually I already have some sort of obscure notion, which is remotely related to what I am looking for. If I just begin boldly enough, my mind will complete what it has begun. The muddled idea is going to pressed and shaped into a new form of clarity, while I progress in speaking. To my astonishment, the thought will be fully completed as soon as I have finished the sentence. I may mix in inarticulate sounds, draw out the connective words, use an apposition where none is needed, and use other tricks to extend my speech in order to find time for the fabrication of my ideas in the workshop of reason," but I should not be worried, as the result is a new thought.

"This kind of speaking truly is thinking out loud ... [and] language is in such circumstances no hindrance (Fessel) ... but is like a second wheel, running parallel to [thinking] ..." Speaking and thinking go hand in hand. Some people would argue that this supposed contrast between language and thought is a misguided theory anyway, and that language is one of the necessary conditions of the possibility of thinking in the first place.

What I find more interesting is the claim he makes on the basis of these observations, namely that it is "not we who know; it is first and foremost a certain condition, in which we happen to be, that 'knows.'"[1] As Lichtenberg put it, we should say: "there is thought," and not "I think," just as we are wont to say "there is lightning" or "it is raining."[2]

It appears to me that writing exhibits the same feature in an even more pronounced way. We find out what we think by writing it down, and we know little that has not been put into that condition. The condition, in which we happen to be when we know, is not independent of its "external" expression whether it be in speech or writing.

A good software application should facilitate this process of thinking.

1. "Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden."

2. "Denn nicht wir wissen, es ist allererst ein gewisser Zustand unsrer, welcher weiß."

3. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: "Hierher gehört was ich an einem andern Ort gesagt habe, daß man nicht sagen sollte: ich denke, sondern es denkt so wie man sagt es blitzt" (L II, 806).

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Brainstorm has been around for a long time. It is a "deceptively simple idea-organizing tool for Windows, with a long history on DOS." Though it is often referred to as an outliner, strictly speaking it does not belong into that category. "BrainStorm was invented before the first commercial outliners came on the scene." However, "if you are already an outliner user, you will find both familiarity and difference in BrainStorm."

This short review of the program in the New York Times from many years ago still correctly characterizes the strengths of Brainstorm as a program and its problems in the market place.

Perhaps its elegance and its "geekiness" are essentially related. But, however that may be, I still like it.

What I like about it:
  • it allows you to capture things easily without paying attention to how things might be ordered later; hence the name

  • it's the best list manager I know; and in the end all organisation starts with lists

  • it also allows you effectively to order the listed materials later

  • when the time comes to start elaborating your ideas, it allows you to concentrate on one thing at a time, keeping everything else out of focus

  • it plays nice with other programs: you can easily import and export to other programs; if you want to work on the structure in Mindmanager or another Mind mapping program just paste a text file written from Brainstorm to the clipboard into that program; it also allows you to launch other programs and files easily

  • it works well with Connectedtext; you can easily copy its URLs into Brainstorm and launch the appropriate topics from it

Here is a picture of the Mindmanager file on Luhmann's card index as a Brainstorm model:

Information on Mind Mapping

This is the most comprehensive site on on mind maps I know. It is accompanied by an interesting blog.

What makes both sites interesting is that they are not restricted to one operating system.

Mind Maps

I find so-called "mind-maps" and "concept-maps" useful in thinking about certain issues. Visualizing relationships between people, concepts, theories, or problems allows me to "see" things I otherwise might not have thought of. I have been using software to make mind maps for many years. Come to think of it, I never really used mind maps on paper. After trying out some other contenders, I began using MindManager when it was still shareware and called Mindman (in 1996, I think, but it may have been 1997 or 1995).

I am very skeptical about the pseudo-psychological concepts—like "right-brained thinking"—which seem to inform the thinking of many developers and advocates of mind mapping. There are also many who believe that mind maps are good tools for large-scale note-taking. I am not one of them. In fact, I think that the kind of visualization they allow of is best for small-scale projects.

Nor am I sure about the claims concerning the kind of "delinearized" thinking they are supposed to allow. In my opinion, linear thinking has always been difficult to achieve, and what people popularly refer to as "linear thinking" is not thinking at all

But, in spite of all my skepticism about some of the hype that goes with mind maps, I find these visualized outlines serve a definite purpose.

For large-scale visualizations other methods seem to be better. (More about that in a future post.)

I have not upgraded MindManager since version 2002, and I am not likely to do so in the future, since the price for the upgrade far outstrips its usefulness for me. Here is a mind map on Luhmann's card index I made some time ago:

Click on image to enlarge!

When I am done with a mind map, I usually save it as a jpg file and import it into ConnectedText.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tools for Visual "Knowledge Management"

I am not sure there is such a thing as "knowledge management." The concept seems incoherent to me. However, there are interesting applications that allow one to manage one's notes and ideas.

In a very interesting post, Eric Blue presents what he calls: 15 Effective Tools for Visual Knowledge Management. It's worth a look.

The link comes to you thanks to Franz Grieser and the Outliner Forum.

I should perhaps also point out that my favorite note manager is regrettably not included. Too bad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Portable Index Card Holder

It's always amazing to me to see what all can be patented. Here is the Portable Index Card Holder for Notebooks. One of the reasons why this invention never really took off is probably that the term "notebook" no longer means what it used to mean.

I saw diskette holders (somewhat) like this, however, and may even have owned one myself.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Freemind Scholar

Freemind Scholar is an attempt to combine mind mapping with reference and Pdf management, which is a great idea. More specifically, it is an attempt to combine the freeware Freemind mind mapping software with the JabRef and Foxit Reader. JabRef uses the BibTeX format (but other formats are planned).

It's written in Java; it's at the alpha stage now, and it's something whose development is to be watched.