Saturday, December 29, 2012

On My Reading List

Written Images: Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals, Notebooks, Booklets, Sheets, Scraps, and Slips of Paper. Ed. Niels Jørgeb Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Johnny Kondrup. Transl. Bruce H. Kirmmse (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2003)

Even though, or perhaps better: just because Kierkegaard wrote in 1843: "After my death no one will find even the least bit of information in my papers (this is my consolation) about what has really filled my life; no one will find that which is written in the core of my being that explains everything, and which often makes what the world would call trifles into exceedingly important events to me, and which I, too, view as insignificance, if I remove the secret note that explains this."[1]

No one knows what's "written in the core" of anyone's being. Nothing would explain everything. Kierkegaard himself did not know it either. I suspect that, if it could be found, it would turn out to be just as boring as the "trifles" that make events "exceedingly important" to us. In 1847 he wrote: "Only when I produce do I feel well. Then I forget all the unpleasantness[.] of life, all sufferings, then I am in my thoughts and happy." If there were a secret, it would be found in his "productions."

All the best for the New Year!

1. See The Secret Note See also Kierkegaard's Writing Desk.

All My Journals

I just received this by e-mail:
Are you thinking of keeping a journal in 2013? Would you like to look back over all those memories from times past, read what you were thinking five or ten years ago?
Sounds great, but how many New Year's Resolutions last beyond January? You forget to write something down. Your word processor is awkward to use as a daily journal. One excuse leads to another and before you know it, it's the end of June and you haven't written an entry since January.
That's where All My Journals comes in.
Simple, clutter free journal software for Windows, from the makers of PageFour. You create as many journals as you wish, and they're always there, a click away.
Download it here and try it out >>
All My Journals opens at today's date so you can get typing straight away. No files, no folders, no frustrations. It takes care of the days, months and years for you, and best of all, you can set a password so that your private thoughts stay private.
We're running a 25% Off offer until January 12th.
So, if you were thinking of keeping a journal this year, and if you appreciate software that does one thing really well, give All My Journals a try.
A fully featured, 15 day trial is available to download, and you have until January 12th to take advantage of the discount.
Happy New Year. Darren Devitt Bad Wolf Software
It looks interesting, and I will try (though I doubt it will persuade me to move my journal from ConnectedText.

There are two versions: one free, the other paid. The paid version will allow you to keep more than one journal. If you download the paid version, it will devolve into the free version after 15 days.

On Germinant Thoughts and Outlines

The Growing of Sermons is in principle not different from the growing of poetry—at least if you believe the Methodist Review of September 1907 (vol. 89). You need "the right sort of seed," cultivated the right way. These seeds consist of "truth which he gathers and pigeon-holes away in his brain" so that it "actually becomes a part of himself, so that when it springs forth at some future time it is a flower bearing the fragrance of life" (p. 728). In order that this may happen:
Have upon your study table, always accessible, a good-sized substantially bound blank book. whenever a germinant thought comes seize your pen and write it down. Such thoughts will come out of your special course of literary reading, out of your cursory scanning of current fiction, even out of the five-minute glance given to the morning paper, out of nowhere and from manywhere (p. 728).
Such "thought-compelling suggestions" may be foreign to the sermon a minister may write, but they may serve as inspiration nevertheless.

This is not the end of the advice:
Have also a special vest-pocket notebook and let nothing escape you. Besides your notebooks have a generous file of long narrow cards. Place on the end of the card in plain letters the name of any subject on which you find any thought worth recurring to in any book you read. Jot down the name or the initial of the volume, together with the page; and if the book is your own, mark the line or paragraph. Gradually your cards will get heads, and you can arrange them so that all the heads can be seen at a glance. You can pick out any subject you desire, either for adding new memoranda or finding something needed on that particular theme. Everywhere, and all the time, gather and store up material (pp. 728f.)
The mere collection of the material will enrich the mind and give "increased facility."

Scissors for clipping papers are also essential. To store these, one need no expensive cabinets: an arrangement "of large envelopes ... will meet every requirement."

When time comes to write the sermon, "proceed to make a rough draught of an outline" (p. 733). If you must write the last part of the sermon, before the first is 'perfectly sketched, by all means do so. "Be not bound by any hard-and-fast system of rules' for writing. "Be yourself. Work in your own harness. Avoid coming inot bondage to any one method of working," but don't be different from anybody else "for the sake of singularity" either (p. 734).

Talk about non-linear writing and note-taking! The advice is just as valid as it was a hundred years ago, even though "good-sized substantially bound blank" books and "special vest-pocket books" may no longer be so necessary and electronic equivalents may have taken their place. But let's remember that they are equivalents and not something radically new. They bring new affordances, but they are also "more of the same."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Growly Write

Bean, a simple and elegant word processor for OS X is no longer developed. In other words, it's a "has been"—not my pun. But there is another word processor that can do just as much and perhaps more. It's called Growly Write. Growly Write does a lot: "multiple columns, chapters with different layouts, pictures that flow with the text or pictures that text wraps around, drop caps, tables, lists, links within a document or to web pages, borders simple and complex, and a complete toolkit of text formats. But everything is easy to find."

But it does not do footnotes (just as Beans didn't). Too bad. They include only features "that most people use every day." On the other hand, they are "getting many requests from students." I would suppose that most of those need footnotes (and that, if they listen to them, they should at least consider the inclusion of this feature. But who am I to ask for this?

I found out about the program here, and I fully agree with the assessment.

Growlybird software offers other interesting applications, like "Growly Notes," which seems to be a OneNote clone for OS X.

The applications are free!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Frye's Notebooks

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) was the most influential Canadian scholar and literary critic during the twentieth century. He kept notebooks pretty much all of his life. About 75 of them have survived. Some of these have been published. It's interesting why he kept them. He claimed:
I keep notebooks because all my writing is a translation into a narrative sequence of things that come to me aphoristically.
All my work consists in translating involuntarily acquired aphorisms into a pattern of continuity. The former has something to do with listening for a Word, the ear being the involuntary sense, the latter with the spread-out performance of the eye.
The main difficulty in my writing, as I've often said, is in translating discontinuous aphorisms into continuous argument. Continuity, in writing as in physics, is probabilistic, and every sequence is a choice among possibilities. Invariable sequence is illusory, & especially in logic, where, just as q is always by u, so 'rigor' is always followed by 'mortis.'[1]
He thought that the fragmentation in knowledge and experience he experienced was characteristic of the new age. It appears to me, however, that he read just too much Jung.

1. Cited according to David Boyd and Imre Saluszinsky, Rereading Frye. The Published and Unpublished Works (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), pp. 10, 18.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Notebooks

Jonathan Edwards had many types of notebooks. Some of them were “Miscellanies,” others substantive notebooks were “Notes on Scripture,” the “Blank Bible,” and “Faith.” In "these he recorded and developed his ideas."[1] But he also had notebooks for planning his life and studies. Kimnach and Minkema call these his “regulatory” notebooks. They contain schedules, lists, memoranda, outlines, and materials for specific projects. "When drafting a major treatise," also constructed "a series of working notebooks to which he committed references, transitions, reminders, even potential chapter titles."

Since paper was expensive, he used and re-used every scrap that became available. Most interestingly, however, he made his own notebooks, "not only to save expense but because it allowed for flexibility of size and arrangement. Edwards’s method, as was common for the time, was stab sewing, in which a needle and thread would be drawn through the assembled pages at the margin, usually in three to five holes, depending on the size of the paper, and knotted at an end hole. Sometimes, perhaps because the sheets were not bound tightly enough or the first stitching had become loose, he added a new set of stitches through different holes. He ran the thread through the holes, connecting them, so that the thread paralleled the left edge of the paper, several millimeters from that edge."[3} he also made the covers of stiffer paper, sometimes adorned with pictures and wallpaper. His notebooks usually had around 98 pages, which he covered with writing on both sides.

Edwards' practice was not at all unusual in eighteenth century New England. Nor was it restricted to New England. European students and scholars used essentially the same technique. What makes Edwards' notebook method special is that he made so many and systematically cross-referenced them. However, even at that, he was not unique. The German writer Jean Paul Richter, who went by "Jean Paul," (1763-1825) outdid him in this by several orders of magnitude.

1. Wilson H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study." The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012), pp. 683-670, 713.
2. Ibid.
3. Kimnach and Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work," pp. 699f.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Most Important Bible

Jonathan Edwards owned a quarto volume made up of blank pages which were interleaved with an octavo King James Bible. Each blank page was "divided into two columns by a red line so that the page offered a space corresponding to the double-columned Bible page facing it." In these pages Edwards developed his reflections, verse by verse."[1]

Like many eighteenth-century thinkers, Edwards thought, pen in hand:
My method of study, from my first beginning the work of the ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way, to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to my utmost, when anything in reading, meditation or conversation, has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point. Thus penning what appeared to me my best thoughts, on innumerable subjects for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studies in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it. The further I traveled in this way, the more and wider the field opened, which has occasioned my laying out many things, in my mind, to do in this manner.[2]
Like other intellectuals in the eighteenth century, he used an interleaved copy of a text central in his profession. For Edwards this was the Bible, for Immanuel Kant, who followed the same practice, it was Baumgarten's Metaphysica for his reflections on metaphysics that ultimately led to the Critique of Pure Reason of 1781. For other subjects, he used interleaved copies of other works by Baumgarten and others.[3] But he did not use separate notebooks to the extent Edwards did.

1. Wilson H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study." The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012), pp. 683-670, 713.
2. Quoted in accordance with Kimach and Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices," p. 684.
3. See also Blumenbach's system on this blog.

Good Advice for Writers

See here; "Thinking in modular terms also helps you to break down the task into manageable component parts. “Writing a book” sounds intimidating, but a book is just the collective product of many days of writing a few dozen, or a few hundred, words. Dividing the project up into chunks allows you to have achievable goals. And anyway, it’s only once you have made all the modules and thought about them for a while that you can see how they fit together."

Jacobs says he uses BBEdit to write because it "allows me to create Projects from multiple files, do search-and-replace across multiple files, “fold” sections of text, view in split screens, and so on and so on." I have seen BBEdit praised many times before but never felt the need to try it. Perhaps I should, even though I did use TextWrangler on and off!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cross Writing

I came across this today (no pun intended): Cross writing as a technique to save paper. It was apparently used frequently in the nineteenth century to save paper or postage. If you believe some of the authors, it is easier to read than one might think.

Charles Darwin used it in his letters as well as in his notes. Here is one example:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

ConnectedText and Evernote

I have recently given up on Simplenote and, as a result, on nValt which I used mainly with Simplenote. To be sure, I have ported the notes to Dropbox and I could use nValt, if I wanted to. It's just that I now find Evernote more convenient for the temporary storage of notes taken on the road.

As I said before, Evernote plays nice with ConnectedText. You can call up ConnectedText topics by the URLs in Evernote and Evernote notes by their note links in ConnectedText. It is also easy to export Evernote notes to html which can easily be imported into ConnectedText.

This seems to be—at least for now—the optimal solution for the complementary needs of temporary and permanent storage of notes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Squarespace Note

Squarespace Note is available for the iPhone. It allows you to "your notes with e-mail, Squarespace, Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter, and more." In other words, it "is a passthrough application. Your notes will actually be stored and managed in the endpoint services you connect to this application. You can use the recorded notes list in Squarespace Note for checking the send status of previously sent notes."

It is an interesting application for which I have no use, even though I utilize Evernote and Dropbox, having given up completely on Simplenote. (I had a premium account, but I did not renew it because it no longer reliably syncs with nValt.)

What I have come to appreciate about Evernote recently is that it plays very nice with ConnectedText. ConnectedText takes URL's from this application and it allows you to open up ConnectedText topics by means of URL's as well.[1]

1. See also here.

Scrivener for Windows Compared to Scrivener for the Mac

See this review by David Hewson. Be sure to look at the comments too.

I bought Scrivener for the Mac some time ago and have "fooled" with it, but it has not, for me, turned out to be a compelling alternative to ConnectedText.

Hewson claims: "The Windows app looks a bit old-fashioned to me, especially when you set it against Microsoft’s new, minimalist version of Word." That leaves me flabbergasted. I have used Word since version 2. All kinds of words come to mind for this version. "Minimalist" is not one of them.[1] And this is not just because of the abominable "ribbon."

1. See also this explanation as to why he is using MS-OneNote and MS-Word now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Perfect Pencil

Faber Castell sells something called "the perfect pencil". As we all know, perfect tools lead to perfect notes, just as a $240.00 pen leads to better writing than a $4.95 pen.

This, of course, is nonsense, though the emphasis on reviewing and evaluating note-taking equipment of any sort, may lead one to the belief that there is a transitive relationship between the "quality" of the equipment we use and the quality of the notes. There is no such relation. Some of the best results have been achieved with the crummiest equipment or the crummiest software.

While tools are not unimportant, they are not as important as the person who uses them. Let's not forget that!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kubrick's Notebooks

There is an interesting post on Stanley Kubrick's notebooks on M. Leddy's blog. Make sure you also click on the link that points toward an entry of his card index about Napeoleon's life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Barzun on Outlines versus Notebooks

I came across this passage in Jacques Barzun, On Writing, editing, and Publishing. Essays Explicative and Hortatory. 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 11:
Why not an outline? Well, for my taste outlines are useless, fettering, imbecile. Sometimes, when you find yourself writing in circles, it may help to write down a sketch outline of the topics (or in a story, of the phases) so far covered. You outline, in short, something that already exists in written form., and this may help to show where you started backstitching. To be sure, a memorandum listing haphazardly what belongs to a particular project is useful. In fact, if you would be a"full" man as you undertake a new piece of work, you should have before you a little stack of slips bearing the ideas that have occurred to you since the subject first came to life in your mind. ... It is jottings of this sort that fill the "Notebooks" at the end of "The works." When I say slips or notebooks, I mean the any congenial form of memorandum, for I doubt whether a self-respecting man with a lively flow of ideas can constrain himself to a uniform style and form of note taking until the sacred fires have begun to cool—say around the age of fifty-one
I have always felt bad that I did not begin settling on a certain method of note-taking before I was 48 and on the final version at around 55. If I were to believe Barzun, I should stop feeling bad. But I don't.

I am also more of an outliner than he ever seems to have been. Though I must say that I am more prone to using flat outlines nowadays. The hierarchical structure arise only slowly as I work out the memoranda collected in my "Notebooks" or ConnectedText Projects by explicitly writing about a certain subject matter in a focused way.

The essay in which these musings can be found is called: "A Writer's Discipline." I recommend it, even if I often have the reactions he also describes: "What an idea! Why, it's just the opposite.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Devonnote and ConnectedText

I just discovered to my delight that you can drag a document from Devonnote on the Mac into ConnectedText on Windows running in Parallels. This creates a File link. Clicking on the link will open the correct Devonnote File in Notepad. Changes made and saved to the file will show up in the DevonThink database.

Apparently this is O.K., as I read the following on the Devonthink Forum:
The major cautions would be not to do things externally that the database isn't aware of, e.g., deleting or renaming files stored within the database, or directly adding files from outside (in which case the database doesn't "know" about such additions and can't list or search them). All those things can be done manually by using the Show Package Contents command, and should be avoided.
Direct editing/saving of a file stored in the database from outside may be OK, although the database may not be aware of the changes until the Synchronize command is used.
This opens up even more possibilities of integrating the Mac with Windows! Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I took s big step today and disabled my main AutohotKey script in Windows. The reason: I downloaded and installed Breevy, a textexpander for Windows that can not only import the abbreviations of TextExpander, but also sync the snippets between the two programs by using Dropbox. It will allow me to get reliable consistency between the mac and Windows.

It can do many of the things AhK does, but not all; and I expect to have an ahk file running parallel to Breevy for a long time to come. But basic tasks I will move from AhK to Breevy. These include:
  • Program Launch
  • Abbreviations of all sorts
  • Clipboard manipulation
  • Date insertion
  • Special Symbols
I like the interface because it is very much like that of TextExpander (and has organizational features, like Folders for different types of snippets.

I have not bought it yet, but I am almost sure that I will do so at the end of the trial period in 30 days. It costs 34.95.[1]

1. Here is a review of it.

Monday, November 19, 2012


This has nothing to do with note-taking. But it is not unimportant. "Zane Tankel owns about 40 Applebees franchises. He says that as a result of the law’s penalties on employers who don’t offer health insurance to their workforce “we won’t build more restaurants, we won’t hire more people.”[1]

I will make it easier for Applebees and never frequent any of their franchises again!

1. See this article.

Microsoft Window

I have not paid much attention to developments having to do with Windows 8, as I run Windows 7 (32 bit) on Parallels in OS X. But today I read this:
Windows" no longer supports multiple windows on the screen. Win8 does have an option to temporarily show a second area in a small part of the screen, but none of our test users were able to make this work. Also, the main UI restricts users to a single window, so the product ought to be renamed "Microsoft Window."
The article goes on to say: "That lack of multiple window support forced Nielsen to dub it 'one of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users.'"[1]

I would agree! In fact, this decision by Microsoft seems to be breathtakingly reckless and stupid! In fact, so much so that I can't believe they made it.

1. See Design guru Nielsen: Windows 8 UI 'smothers usability'.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Qualitative Analysis and ConnectedText

If you are interested in qualitative analysis and how to do it in ConnectedText (or if you are just interested in ConnectedText, you might want to take a look at this blog this blog. It's very interesting and stimulating.


One of the great things about Lotus Agenda, the old DOS application i have talked about many times, was that you could just type ordinary English expressions, like "meeting with Jim on Monday," and it would understand how to translate it into a calendar item.

I have just discovered Fandastical from Flexbits for Mac OS X. It does the same, using the built-in calendar (iCal), BusyCal, Entourage, or Outlook for the results. It also does alarms and syncs even when iCal is not running.

It's available as a 14 day trial. After that it costs $19.99. I am trying it out, and so far I am impressed.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Neo or Tablet

I posses both an Alphasmart Neo and an iPad 2, and a rooted Nook Touch. Here is my quandary, though "quandary" is perhaps an exaggeration: which to use when traveling. The Alphasmart is rather bulky, but it has a better keyboard than any Tablet. One of the reasons why I think about this is this post about the Neo 2. But the keyboard on some tablets is very good.

I bought the Alphasmart Neo many years ago. Whether I would buy it now for $169.00, while there are perfectly good tablets available for $199.00 (like the Galaxy Tab 2) is a moot question. I wouldn't! But since I have one already I think I will use at home, away from my main computer as a "distraction-free" writing machine. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Melville on Method

Herman Melville said: "There are some enterprises in which careful disorderliness is the only true method." This contrasts sharply with Descartes who meant by method "certain and simple rules, such that, if man observes them accurately, he will never assume what is false as true."

Note-taking requires both at different times—or so it seems to me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Folding Text, Finished

Folding Text is now available in the Apple Applications Store. It costs $14.99.[1]

If it were cheaper, like half the price, I would have bought it already. I am still thinking whether I really need a rudimentary editor that duplicates what other programs do which I already own."

The say, the program is "surprisingly adept" and will make you "write clear, focused documents." If it did, it would be worth a hundred times its price, but I am afraid writing "clear and focused documents" is the responsibility of the writer, not of the software.

1. Added on Wednesday, October 17, 2012: It seems that $14.99 represents the "40% Off Launch Sale," and that the final price is even higher.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On How I Won't Measure My Life

How Will You Measure Your Life? is obviously not a book for someone like me. It is full of useless platitudes: "It's important to understand what makes us tick," meaning "understand what motivates" us. You don't say? "It's difficult." Indeed! "We can learn from how companies develop." Really? I rather doubt it. "We need to employ, a combination of "emergent and deliberate strategy," i.e. between what's happening and what we want to happen. What else is new? "A strategy ... is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, and money." No, that is your character, not necessarily your strategy! "Intimate, loving, and enduring relationships with our family and close friends will be among the sources of the deepest joy in our lives." Perhaps, but they are also often the sources of the deepest misery in our lives. In any case, this advice is as trite as it gets. The same is true of other jewels of advise, such as "sacrifice and commitment," the "Greek tragedy of outsourcing," "understand your capabilities," "never outsource the future," "enterprises and families are very similar" in wanting their junior members making the right choices, "staying out jail."

Most important for my initial interest was the question about questions. I wanted to find out about what interesting things he might have to say about questions. But here too the book falls flat: "If we ask the right questions, the answers generally are easy to get." I guess that is the kind of advice to expect from a boy scout leader (see p. 153).

The $10.00 I spent on this book were not well spent. But I learned one thing from this experience. I should resist buying a book electronically on one intriguing hint. Had I gone to the local bookstore and browsed its contents for ten to fifteen minutes in the book, I would have realized that it wasn't for me, that it was over-hyped (if that is not a pleonasm). It is like almost all "self-help books." It's not that I have something against the genre of self-help books. I did like: Ari Kiev, A Strategy for Daily Living. The Classic Guide to Success and Fulfillment. New York: The Free Press, 1997 (originally published 1973).

On the other hand, given the cost of gas, it was not such a large monetary mistake. What I consider the bigger mistake is the time I wasted reading it.


Read this recently: "Paraphrased slightly, he [Clayton Christensen] said: “Questions are places in your mind where answers fit. If you haven’t asked the question, the answer has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off. You have to ask the question – you have to want to know – in order to open up the space for the answer to fit.”[1]

This expresses very well in modern idiom why the unexamined life is not worth living. The problem is not that there are not enough answers, but that there are not enough questions. Furthermore much that counts "answer" is really questionable. I am not given to reading books about business, even less to reading those who address "the business of life," but I will read How Will You Measure Your Life?. In fact, I have just downloaded a copy for my Kindle.

1. Via Signal vs. Noise.

Scapple Beta

Thanks to my friend Jim, I just became aware of this new application by the Scrivener folks. It looks very interesting:
"The idea is simple: when I'm "brainstorming" ideas (I hate the word "brainstorming", by the way, so please feel free to suggest a better alternative), especially for writing but to a lesser extent for programming too, I tend to take a piece of A3 paper and just write down ideas all over it, in no particular order, making notes off of one idea and drawing lines between them where necessary. So the concept was to take that process and put it in a really simple application; something that wouldn't be any more difficult to use than paper."

Put differently, it is a mind map program that does not restrict you to a single min map, but allows you to have many different centers of interest (or ideas) in one sheet that can be connected or unconnected. A short list of the commands is in the blog post. But I have only played with Scapple so far.

The simplicity of the program appeals to me. Most other mind map programs are too bloated and ... well ... aim at replicating fancy visual mind maps. Scapple has a text-like fee. The developer says: "I wanted an easy way to then take all those notes and dump them into a text file in some sort of order, and I have yet to implement that, so I'd be grateful for any feedback on how that might best be achieved. (It's therefore currently of limited use for real-world work.)" There are, of course, already, suggestion on the board for putting all the feature in that would make it a mind map program like any other (with shapes and garish colors). I hope the developer will resist those suggestions and keep it simple.

This sounds like a great idea. Furthermore, since it is created by the developer of Scrivener, it will interact with future versions of that program. Apparently, it already works with the recent Beta.

Even though I have played with it only for a very short time, I like it a lot and recommend very highly that you take a look at it.

PS: As to the price: "We haven't settled on a definite price yet, but I'm thinking that it will be around $10 or just under." $10.00 seems more than reasonable.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Notebook from 1437

Frederick III, later Holy Roman Emperor, kept a Notebook. Here is one page of it:
For a transcription of this page (in German), see here. Apparently, this page contains the first known occurrence of A.E.I.O.U.AEIOU, or A.E.I.O.U..

What interests me more is how little the (dis)orderly arrangement of notebooks seems to have changed in more than 500 years. Frederick III's notebook pages were pergament, not paper, though paper was by this time widely available.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Outline in Cicero

As I have argued in a previous post, what we call "outlines" today are are a certain typographical convention or, perhaps better, a convention in how we represent in writing hierarchical lists. Such lists can already be found in antiquity. Her is one example. Cicero, in the second book of his work on Moral Ends presents the following classification of views on the highest good:

A. The highest good is to live in accordance with nature

  1. Those who think it involves virtue
    1. Old Academy and Peripatetics
    2. Calipho, added nothing but pleasure to virtue
    3. Diodorus, added nothing but freedom from pain to virtue
  2. Those who think it consists of just pleasure
    1. Aristippus, pleasure and pain, pure and simple
    2. Epicurus
    3. Hieronymus
    4. Carneades
  3. Those who think it is virtue plus some other thing, i.e. not pleasure
    1. Polemo
    2. Calipho
    3. Diodorus
  4. Those who think it is just decency or morality and non-complex
    1. Zeno or the Stoics

After giving this account, he "narrows down the competition," that is, he tries to show which theory is actually true. The details of this argument shall not concern us here. All that interests me in this context is pointing out that he proposes what we might call an outline, though he does not, of course, present in the form of an outline. All we have in a modern translation is two paragraphs, in which he states this classification. It is by the way not unambiguous (and my particular reconstruction can be criticized).

But even the organization into two paragraphs was probably not there when Cicero wrote this. In fact, there was no mark for the paragraph or even spacing between different words. It was all jumbled together as one continues string of letters.

There is no doubt in my mind that the convention of putting spaces between words, starting new paragraphs with a new line and indicating clearly the different headings of the classification are making it easier for us to read and understand what is said. They also make it easier for us to think about the matter at hand. But it cannot be denied that they are not absolutely necessary either. Clearly, Cicero (and Cicero's contemporaries) could do without these conventions. But outliners, in the end, are based on a convention that is similar in kind to the convention of putting spaces between words when writing. It's a kind of microformat. This microformat is superior to the lack of format in Cicero, but it represents in no way a new way of thinking.

I do not claim that this "outline" by Cicero is anything special. Such passages can be found everywhere in ancient texts that discuss systematic matters.

A Quandary

Even though I have many problems with Ezra Pound, this observation of his (taken in isolation) seems right:
There is no use talking to the ignorant about lies, for they have no criteria.
Thanks to Attempts, where you also find a reference to the text in which the claim is found.

I wasn't going to say this, but I must: "The trouble with the ignorant is, of course, that they don't know that they belong to the ignorant and thus go around quoting Ezra Pound." That's what makes this post a quandary.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Markdown Pro versus Mou

Here is a review of Markdown Pro. It compares this application to Mou and comes to the conclusion: "If Markdown Pro was made by Apple, and Mou by Samsung, these two would be in court in seconds. Fortunately for us, neither of these apps is likely to get blocked by the courts." Since Mou is free for now, it would be the hands-down favorite, were it not for the fact that Markdown Pro has 10 templates whereas Mou has only 4.

I don't know why I like Multimarkdown Composer better. It does not even export directly to PDF. Perhaps it is because in the end I prefer Wiki Markup over Markdown, anyway.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Here is an enthusiastic review of Matilde. Matilde does Markdown and RTF. The author complains that it is free. This problem seems to have been fixed. It now costs $9.95. There is still a link to "Free Licenses," but clicking it gets you to a page not found error.

People will have to decide whether it's worth the money for them. In any case, I disagree with the reviewer that the sum of its parts is greater than its parts. Since it does not allow for its files to be saved in DropBox or, as far as I can tell in any other directory than the one hard-coded into it, I find it too inflexible (among other things).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Enough Said!

Image: CuttingLibraries, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from daniel_solis's photostream — via Boing Boing

10 Pages Free. Unlimited Pages $5 a Year

TypeLink is "a cloud-based personal wiki notepad" for the iPhone, iPod and iPad. "You Type, and it Links! It allows you to organize your information easily and get to it wherever you are."

Its cloud is here. It's also supposed to accessible through the desktop.

I am not going to shell out the money! TrunkNotes, which uses Markdown and can sync through DropBox, seems a better deal. It costs $3.99 (one time).

Friday, September 28, 2012


Here is a post that chides Apple customers for being ungrateful egoists (not really worthy of Apple):
Where is the sense of gratitude and wonder that we used to have? A tech company sells millions and millions of an amazing smart phone, but decided to create a new model by investing untold amounts of money and energy. And then they released it for the same price as the last model. They didn't have to, but they did. To moan and complain about that smacks of entitlement and selfishness.
Here are people who paid good money—arguably too much money for something—and did not get what they expected. They complain, and now they are told sanctimoniously that they are "selfish" because they complain. Oh ... and apple invested "untold amounts of money and energy" just to make people whole again? Expected profit has nothing to do with it?

Give me a break! What planet are people like that coming from? They make me sick! If the present customers are unworthy of Apple, Apple should get a whole new set of more worthy customers.

"Please. Just stop."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Whitelines Link

Whitelines Link is an application for iPhone, ipod Touch and iPad that automatically detects and scans your paper. It removes background noise, autocorrects tilt and contrast and provides you with crisp, sharp notes, both in color and black/white. Share your notes and ideas with your friends by e-mail or save them in Dropbox and Evernote." It's "a happy combo of physical and digital notes," they say, which makes me happy for the combo. It needs special paper, but the Website says nothing about where you should (could) buy it. There is, however, another Website that allows you to print "free paper" and has a link to a shop in Sweden.

It's clearly meant as competition to Evernote Smart Notebook, available through Moleskine. I doubt it will make a big splash in the U.S., but I have been wrong before


The Markdown craze started on the Mac Platform. Recently, there have appeared quite a few different versions of Markdown Editors on the Windows Platform.[1] I reported on some of these. Markdownpad seems to be one of the more popular ones. Downmarker does not seem to be a top contender. It is one of the more simple incarnations.[2] However, it allows you easily to link pages, using references to local files Markdown style: "(Mylink)[]". While the linking is not fully automatic, it works quite well.

You can thus create easily a simple Markdown wiki (even in DropBox, if you wish). It is simple, but not simple-minded. It's rather elegant. And it is free.

1. See here. See also an opinion on what is the best Markdown editor to use. But see also this dissenting view.
2. You can download Downmarker from here or, perhaps better, here .

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Knowsynotes: Markdown and Spreadsheets

KnowsyNotes "is an organizer and editor" for plain text notes (*.txt) and spreadsheets (*.csv)." Its default format for text is Markdown. It is available only for Windows. A 30 day trial is available. The price is $24.99.

One of the things I like most is that it allows you to link easily to other documents, images, and Websites using free inks, i.e. the bracket convention: [linked file]. Aliases are allowed. Files have to be in the same directory.

Like a personal wiki (and most markdown applications) editing and viewing are done in different modes. Besides Markdown, it can also use a subset of the blade wiki markup. It uses the familiar folder structure for organizing data. This means you can use it with files previously created.

Its capabilities are fairly rudimentary, but, if you need (or want) to display and edit csv files and have a markdown editor with some wiki-ability, KnowsyNotes is the application to buy.

Obviously, the developer wants the user to make the association between "knowing" and "notes." Unfortunately for me (or him, because I have the feeling others will be similarly inclined): "knowsy" suggests "nosy," or the state of being offensively inquisitive about personal matters. Would I really want to let other people know that I have some "nosy notes"?

To end on a personal matter that does not require nosiness by anyone, it does only one thing that ConnectedText does not do, namely display csv files. Since I do not need this capability frequently, I will not pay the $24.99. But this should not persuade others to dismiss this interesting and very promising application. I recommend it to anyone who finds ConnectedText "too much."

Some people will like the Multibar, reminiscent of Notational Velocity. Others will like especially the ability to keep the files in DropBox.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Philip Roth and Wikipedia, Again

I just came across this by one of the co-founders of Wikipedia who claims to write as a private citizen:
There’s only one problem with this: Roth’s open letter is at best the (justifiably) aggrieved and confused ramblings of a man ignorantly discussing what he does not understand or remember, and at worst a deliberately malicious act inspired by nothing more than a misguided desire to flip us the Vs and maybe get paid by the New Yorker on the way.
Lets go through his account again, shall we?
I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed.
False. There was absolutely no misstatement in the article. What the article claimed at the time he wrote this open letter was that “Kakutani and other critics were struck by the parallels to the life of Anatole Broyard, a writer and the New York Times literary critic in the 1950s and 1960s who was of Louisiana Creole mixed-race descent and passed for white”.
This is entirely correct. Kakutani was struck by the parallels, and has stated this, as have Brent Staples in the New York Times and several other literary reviewers and authors.
So, the defense is:
  • Insults
  • Some people had indeed the impression that there were parallels different from those that Roth himself reports. And Wikipedia reported the fact that someone had such an impression.
We all know that impressions by someone (anyone?) are more important than what a primary source reports. Do we? Well, in my view this is even more idiocy of the Wikipedia kind!

What about a sentence like: "Philip Roth claims ...", followed by a footnote reporting the "fact" that "others (previously) have had the impression that ..."? Even better, I'd like some argument as to why someone's "impressions" are to be preferred over the claims of the author! And who the hell is (was) Kakutani? I hope it's not the same one that Jonathan Franzen is said to have called "the stupidest person in New York City."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Calepin Closing Down

"Calepin is now an open source project for education and fun; is shutting down." No further comment!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

More Wikipedia Idiocy

In a recent Open Letter to Wikipedia Philip Roth relates his experience, trying to remove false information from an entry about him.
"I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources."
They require "secondary sources." It does not matter whether the secondary sources are reliable or not, as long as they are secondary.

This policy turns all good rules of scholarship and—I suppose—journalism (not to mention encyclopedia editing) upside down. Primary sources are ... well ... primary sources and secondary sources are secondary to primary sources. Unless there are very good reasons to go with what is secondary, you should rely on the primary sources. In the case at issue, the burden of proof is on Wikipedia, not on Philip Roth. If only Jonah Lehrer had had the gall of the Wikipedia people!

What has become of Wikipedia because of their so-called "experts" who lack any common sense is despicable.[1]

1. It definitely seems that lack of common sense and, come to think of it, lack of intelligence are necessary condition of the possibility of becoming a Wikipedia cop.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The History of Outlining

It is often forgotten that outlines are not "natural" in the sense that they indicate a natural way of thinking about matters. They are a highly refined kind of instrument, and just as refined sugar does not occur naturally, so outlines do not occur without refined thinking. Table sugar made from sugar beets has undergone the following process: "the crop is washed and sliced and the sugar extracted by diffusion. The raw juice is then treated with lime and carbonated in a number of stages in order to purify it. Water is evaporated by boiling the syrup under a vacuum. The syrup is then cooled and seeded with sugar crystals. The white sugar which crystallizes out can be separated in a centrifuge and dried" (Wikipedia). Outlines are conventions that are just as artificial.

Outlines seem to presuppose techniques that became popular only when paper and printing became a main staple in Western culture. It is sometimes claimed that Ramon Llull (1232-1316) "invented" outlines. I doubt this is true, but his writings certainly popularized this way of organizing materials and it was around his life time that outlines first appeared.
Essentially, outlines are a typographical means of presenting hierarchical information that evolved to the highly elaborate convention we know over a long period. This, does not mean, of course, that what is nowadays represented in outlines was not possible before. Systematic or hierarchical thinking was possible before (just as honey and other substances could be used for sweetening, so hierarchical thinking was possible before outlines). Rhetoricians have always given advice on how to present things in speech. Cicero advised, for instance, that speeches should contain a section, called partitio in his De Partitione Oratoria Dialogus, also called Partitiones Oratoriae and De Partitionbus Oratoriae, translated as "On the Subdivisions of Oratory," and other ancient writings show that they have a systematic structure. But the convention that we call "outline" was not available to him. by the eighteenth century, outlining in the modern sense was well established, and during the nineteenth century it became a standard way of working. But the history of outlining has not yet been written.

It might be argued that outlines are making systematic thinking easier and that the kind of systematic classification you find in someone like Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) would have been difficult without them. Perhaps it is even closer to calculus, which was invented or discovered by Newton and Leibniz, that allows us to do things that were not possible before. But, just as the mastery of calculus does not make anyone into a Newton or Leibniz, so the mastery of outlining does not turn someone magically into a systematic thinker.

Software programs that mimic and improve on written outlining also help, but they do not come with guarantees either. Nor is any style of outliner that is inherently better or worse than any other.[1]

1. The last claim should not be taken to mean either that there are not some outliners that are better than others. I prefer one-pane outliners for outlining, but two-pane outliners are good for fleshing out one's ideas. To overwork the analogy with sugar. Sometimes brown sugar is better than table sugar, and, for breakfast, nothing beats honey (unless you are diabetic, of course).

Treepad in Parallels

I have always liked Treepad. But, since moving to the Mac and Parallels, I have not used it.

One of the reasons I liked it, is because it easily allows you to switch between viewing the the tree only and seeing both the tree viewing the entry only, and viewing both (Ctrl-F11, Ctrl-F-10, Ctrl-F12). I even used to use it as a replacement for MS-Powerpoint. Now I use Keynote.

Because I had to look at some old files (the semester starts tomorrow) I installed both Treepad Lite and Treepad Business. I am sorry to say that Treepad Lite does not work for me because it does not allow me to insert new nodes with a Mac keyboard.

Treepad Business works, since the return key inserts a new node (and the nodes can be promoted and demoted with Alt-Right and Alt-Left. I doubt I will use it much, as I do my windows outlining right in ConnectedText and on the Mac I use Sribe for simple outlines.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Analog Laptops

I came across this. It's interesting to me, as I own one of those things. I received it as a Christmas present many years ago.

It was bought at the Bombay Company. Some writing desks very much like the one I own are available at eBay for under $100.00. Mine is not for sale because it was a gift, and I still harbor illusions that I will use it one of these days (probably in retirement).
I have a feeling these types of implement considerably predate "Victorian times," but have not done research on it. One of the reasons why these things were popular in earlier times has probably to do with the lack of desk space.

Reminder: First Definition of Hypertext

"A system of non-sequential writing that would allow the reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established structure fixed by the author.” Ted Nelson

I have found Hypertext more useful for note-taking as an attempt "to aggregate meaning in snippets" without either an "order of the note-taker's own choosing" or "a pre-established structure" fixed by the note-taker. Order is something that emerges from the snippets or is introduced at a later state. (Note that the latter use of "or" is non-exclusive.)

My preference for this approach is the reason why I find outliners not very useful in collecting notes. Nor do I think that this preference is a merely subjective attitude. Thinking in terms of headings is primarily exclusionary thinking. It has a use later in the process or activity that is note-taking.

No further comment!

Notetab 7

NoteTab has released version 7. It adds "new features, including:
  • Searching with easy-to-use wildcards (like * and ?)
  • Real-time word count (NoteTab or Microsoft Word method)
  • Text statistics for SEO (HTML code automatically ignored)
  • Support for HTML5 and CSS3
  • Support for Twitter’s Bootstrap toolkit
  • New HTML/CSS libraries
  • Syntax highlighting for CSS
  • Improved syntax highlighting for HTML
  • New web templates
  • And much more…"
As you know, I use Notetab. But I have not upgraded to 7.0 so far, as I found none of the changes compelling for my purposes. I would have desired new feature for the Outline and linking of topics. That I have not yet upgraded doesn't mean I won't in the future. It's just not a priority at this time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Voodoopad Blogging

From their Website: "Static publishing turns a VoodooPad document into a lean, mean, Markdown formatting, static blog generating machine. In addition to supporting Markdown, with static publishing you can also sprinkle Scriptlets into your templates and blog posts for dynamic output. You can even use JavaScript events for customization."

But note: "Static is an advanced tool. If you aren't comfortable with JavaScript, it might not be the right tool for you. In addition, Static does not provide web hosting support for your blog. You will need to find a website host on your own" (FlyingMeat).

This is not quite the publication of a static Website, but it is a further move away from a personal wiki. Don't know whether that is a good thing.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Evernote Smart Notebook

The Evernote Smart Notebook is a paper notebook by Moleskine that's designed to make it easy to jot down your thoughts on paper, then record, modify, and remember them forever with Evernote. The paper notebook also includes a set of Smart Stickers that automatically add digital tags to your notes. When you're done writing in the notebook, use the Page Camera feature inside Evernote on iOS (iPhone or iPad) to optimize and import notes into your Evernote Digital memory. Every Evernote Smart Notebook purchase includes a complimentary subscription to Evernote Premium for three months."

They "will be available in two sizes, pocket ($24.95) and large ($29.95), beginning on October 1."

"Normal" Moleskines, if there are such things, cost around $10.00 at Amazon.

No further comment!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Folding Text

Folding Text is advertised as "Plain text productivity for geeks. FoldingText gets you organized and more. As you type, it auto-formats your document into headings, lists, and paragraphs. Fold your headings to see the big picture. Focus headings to view the details."

Folding text editors have always interested me. They let you more easily concentrate on the task at hand. They are not exactly outliners, but share an important feature with them. Hence, I consider it an important addition to the text editor families on the Mac.

The Pomodoro and Todo functionalities are also great. I am persuaded to give it a serious trial.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sparse Connectivity

Seung argues in his book on the Connectome that the theory that the brain is like a white sheet of paper or tabula rasa and has unlimited potential for connections is wrong. The "assumption of all-to-all connectivity is flagrantly wrong. The brain is actually at the opposite extreme of sparse connectivity. Only a tiny fraction of all possible connections actually exists" (p. 86).

I believe that the same should hold for a secondary or external Connectome. It should do with a limited number of connections. Overconnection creates more problems than it solves. The connections provide a potential for knowledge and do not constitute knowledge itself. More is not always better.

Seung also argues that synapse creation is a random process and that there is a process in the brain that resembles the "survival of the fittest for synapses" (88). Some connections get stronger over time, other get weaker. This is what Luhmann predicted for his own Zettelkasten, and this is what I have experienced with my version of it during the last ten years or so.

Monday, August 20, 2012


During my recent holiday in Ohio and Indiana, two great states, I bought and read a book called Connectome. How the Brain's Basic Wiring Makes us Who We Are by Sebastina Seung (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2012). Seung is professor of computational neuroscience at MIT. (Were it possible to start my academic life over again, that would be the discipline I would want to concentrate in.) He suggest the possibility that we are our connectomes, that is, the totality of the patterns of neuronal connections in our brains. It's more specific than "You are your brain," and very different from "You are your genome." We are, of course far off from mapping all the connections in our brains or nervous system, but it has been done for C-elegans, a roundworm that has 300 neurons (see pp. xi-xii).
What amazes me is how similar (though much more complex) this image looks to the graphs in my ConnectedText projects. Whether Seung's theory is ultimately a true description of us or our brains, I do not know, but some of his thoughts capture the nature of my external brain, kept in ConnectedText.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Retrieval Cues

I recently read an entry on how similar Evernote and the human brain and its memories are supposed to be in retrieving information: "Evernote is designed to work the way your brain does and a few months ago, a neuroscientist named Maureen Ritchey came by our offices to explain exactly why that’s the case." If you are interested, just do a search. I am very skeptical about this similarity, all talk of "second brain" for storage systems to the contrary.

There was one good, if perhaps homely, piece of advice: "Include as many potential retrieval cues as possible." Indeed, if you do not keep retrieval in mind while taking notes, it will be harder to find them.

Establishing connections between the new notes and the old ones still seems to be the best way. Second best are tags or categories ... I think. A good search function is also essential.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Comparative Reviews of Outliners

For a series of very informed and very thorough reviews of some of the “best outlining software for windows,” see here. There are four reviews so far, and the series is still continuing.

No further comment!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Day One

Day One is a "simple way to journal. It's easy to quickly enter your thoughts, memories and photos to have them synced and backed up in the cloud." I have been using it since it first came out. The last update adds the ability to include photos and improves sync speed and reliability (though I have never had any problems.[1] It's available for the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and for OS X. It's also been updated for Snow Leopard.

Right now it's reduced by 50%.

What do I use it for? Sometimes I forget to sync my ConnectedText Projects before leaving home or the office. Day One takes notes that automatically sync on all my computers, and I use it as an interim container of sorts. I could use other applications, but it works well. I also use it on the iPad, where it is one of the best-designed applications for note-taking.

1. "iCloud is the native sync solution for Mac and iOS platforms. It syncs automatically in the background which makes it faster than Dropbox. It’s also included with your Apple account and is automatically enabled if you’ve setup iCloud Documents and Data on your device. Bonus: there’s no need to create a new account."

Speculative Instruments

I. A. Richards begins his Principles of Literary Criticism with the claim that "a book is a machine to think with." He does not seem to want it to usurp the role of a locomotive or of the bellows, however. His book is meant to be a loom by means of which he tends to "reweave some ravelled parts of our civilisation." Whether "re-weaving" already qualifies as thinking should be questionable—or so it seems to me. Furthermore, I am worried with Kant that many people will substitute a book—and this does not have to be the Holy Bible—for thinking: Once you have a book do the thinking for you, you do not have to think for yourself any longer!

Still, I think the claim is very suggestive. I would slightly vary it and say: "a notebook is a machine to think with." Such a notebook does not have to be made of paper, of course. But it must be the kind of thing that allows you to confront what you have noted and thought in a form that is independent of your own subjective frame of mind at any given moment. No matter how primitive this machine is, thinking with it is better than bare thinking. To quote Francis Bacon one more time: "Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much. It is by instruments and helps that the work is done, which are as much wanted for the understanding as for the hand. And as the instruments of the hand either give motion or guide it, so the instruments of the mind supply either suggestions for the understanding or caution." Richards' "speculative instruments" are his "eyes": the theories, principles, methods, codes, and poems by means of which the mind extends its power of understanding are not just indebted to Bacon's "instruments of the mind," but also presuppose externalization.[1]

The phrase "speculative instruments" seems to come from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who kept many “memorandum books” for the development of his own speculative instruments.[1]

1. There is a fine study of the role some of them played in his work by John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu. A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin and The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1927).

Daniel Bor on Jonah Lehrer

This post by Daniel Bor seems to me the final word on Jonah Lehrer. See also an earlier entry on this blog on brainstorming. No further comment!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wanna Buy Someone Else's Notes?

Here is an offer of "Handwritten Psychology Note cards 500 plus in metal file box 1970s." They are "Handwritten index cards, approximately 500 individual cards in a metal file box. These cards were the personal notes of a 1970's graduate student studying for a Ph.D in marriage and family counseling with an emphasis on systems theory and an interest in the life of the spirit. The notes are densely written, a few are typed but most are written in extremely small handwriting. I can read them, but it's work to decipher some of the words. The notes are categorized and organized according to this individual's method."

Do I want it?

Not really!

Pale Fire "Liberated"?

Nabokov describes a poem written on Index Cards by a certain John Shade in Pale Fire. This poem has now been published separately. In a review of the New York Times we find: "PALE FIRE: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade (Gingko Press, $35) is an almost ridiculously lovely package: the poem itself is printed in a small booklet, the note cards upon which Shade “wrote” the poem are recreated (complete with faux ink stains), and an accompanying critical text contains helpful essays from the Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd and the poetry critic R. S. Gwynn (who makes a smart case for Nabokov having used couplets partly as a response to Robert Lowell’s early work). If you’re a Nabokov devotee, this is comparable to getting a special edition of “Physical Graffiti” with a facsimile string from one of Jimmy Page’s custom violin bows inside."

The whole thing seems shady (sorry!) to me. See also here and here.

No further comment!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Valéry's Morning Exercises

Paul Valéry (y (1871-1945) was one of the great symbolist writers. He kept notebooks for most of his life. "Over the course of fifty years, Valéry would ultimately fill no fewer than 261 copybooks, with a total length of approximately 30,000 pages. From 1894 onwards, he got up at five o'clock every morning to dedicate himself to these mental morning exercises before he went to work. Every thought was to be written down as precisely as possible to give his mind a good workout: this was typical of Valéry, the most versatile bookworm of the century, but not necessarily a coherent thinker. His work is fragmentary, and only rarely does it follow through on any of its ideas."

They do not really constitute an intimate journal, but are a mass of
  • notes
  • sketches
  • diagrams
  • thoughts on every conceivable subject under the sun, from mathematics to prosody
  • transcript of conversations with Mallarmé and Gide to
  • prose poems
  • delicate little watercolours
  • thoughts the conservation of energy and its relation to mental activity.
Over the years, he tried many systems of classification for these entries.

For more information, see here and here, for instance.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Roland Barthes' Mourning Diary

I picked up recently a remaindered copy of Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009). It is a translation of Journal de deuil, a publication of the paper slips on which Barthes noted thoughts he had in connection with his mother's death between October 25, 1977 and October 1978 (as well as some other notes about his mother). The translator notes that what is published "is in fact a diary only in a rather desperate sense: the writer kept a stack of quartered typing paper on his desk, and from the day of his mother's death until nearly his own, while he was producing his last best books, he would scribble one or another or sometimes several aphoristic losses as a sort of diagnostic test, a questioning of torment, a preparation for the days task: a companion to the ultimate writings of Roland Barthes" (259).

Barthes was in the habit of writing such slips. The quartered typing pages correspond to the format of DIN A 4 (the DIN format was introduced in France in 1967). It's interesting that he used quartered typing pages, as he could have bought card stock.

It appears that the title "Mourning Diary" is not from Barthes. Whether these notes to himself deserved publication is a different question.

What does one make of an entry like this: "—The courage of discretion —It is courageous not to be courageous"? The claim that something is identical with the very lack of itself is just false. (No interesting dialectical move here!) Many of the notes are just sad or wallowing in self-pity. I very much doubt Barthes would have agreed to the publication of these raw notes!

Still, the way he took these is interesting for someone interested in note-taking.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Smallest Federated Wiki

There is an interesting post on Wired about Ward Cunningham's Smallest Federated Wiki. There is a more informative site by Cunningham himself.

The github site is here.

Friday, June 29, 2012


"iCloud support... Only for those who buy Mellel at the App Store!"

Cheated again!

No further comment!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

TextExpander 4

TextExpander 4 will no longer be available in the Applications Store because of Apple's Sandboxing Rules.

But the upgrade price is honored, even if you bought your version in the Application Store. Bare Bones Software would have been better advised to take this course, and to forget about Apple's iCloud. And not just because Apple has proven in the past to be be rather fickle in offering "services" like MobileMe. In any case, I will not update Yojimbo.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yojimbo Fiasco

Yojimbo users received this today:
Dear Yojimbo customer,

If you use MobileMe to synchronize your Yojimbo data across multiple Macs, you will soon be affected by Apple's decision to end MobileMe service, and we're providing the following info to help smooth your transition.

If you use Yojimbo on one Mac only, or if you use Yojimbo on one Mac and synchronize it only with the Yojimbo for iPad companion app, this change will not immediately affect you.

If however you currently use MobileMe to synchronize your Yojimbo data across multiple Macs, we hope to make the transition to iCloud as smooth as possible. Thus, we are sending this letter to provide you with background information, and to outline your available options.

*** Please note that with the release of the new version, Yojimbo will *only* be available in the Mac App Store. This is because Apple has decided that any applications that use iCloud for sync may only be distributed through the Mac App Store. Therefore, customers who have bought Yojimbo directly from us and wish to use iCloud to sync data will have to purchase a new version of Yojimbo from the Mac App Store.
Let's say you bought Yojimbo on March 17 of this year with an eye to the new syncing feature, then you have just been screwed.[1] Why did Bare Bones Software not advise people beforehand that they should consider buying it at the Apple Application Store? I cannot believe that Apple told them only today.

Shame on Bare Bones Software! Shame on Apple too!

1. I was foolish enough to do this.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Running Acta and MORE on the Nook Touch

Apparently it's possible. See here. I have run mini vMac on Windows and OS X, but now I could run it on the Android platform. And so could you, if you rooted your Nook Touch, and IF you really wanted to. No further comment!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Markdown versus Wiki Syntax

I often hear people complaining about Wiki Syntax, while praising Markdown. As I have said before, I find the two very similar. Markdown is indebted to Wiki Syntax. In fact, Markdown may be characterized as "Wiki syntax" without the wiki renderer, with scripts to produce HTML and other formats.

Let me make absolutely clear that I have nothing against Markdown, MultiMarkdown, or Tx2Tags, or … other minimal markup languages. It's just that I prefer a certain set of Wiki Syntax (and I know that this is subjective, but so is the preference for one or any of the other versions of minimal markup languages). I use ConnectedText markup as the example.

What difference doe it make whether you type: *italics*, _underline_ , **bold** in Markdown or //italics//, __underline_-, **bold** in Wiki?

The same holds for most other conventions. Some things may be simpler in Markdown, like the convention for headings. Markdown allow you to indicate them with different numbers of hashes, like "#", "##", etc., ConnectedText makes you type "=Heading=", "==Heading==", etc. Markdown is simpler, but the difference is marginal.

Other things are harder in Markdown. Take block quotes, for example. Markdown requires you to put a ">" in front of every line and hard-wrap the lines, or be "lazy" and put it only in the first line of a hard-wrapped series of lines. ConnectedText just asks you to put a ":" in the first line and will block everything until you hit return.

I could go on and on, but I think this is enough!

To say it again, I do not have anything at all against Markdown and I do not find it annoying in any way. And if I did, I would just not use it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Free Links in Scrivener

It turns out that Scrivener can do free links. They are just called "Wiki links." From the manual:
Wiki Link Style
An optional method lets you type in new links without using the mouse at all, oreven being fully aware of the title you wish to link to. To enable this method, visitthe Auto-Correction tab of Scrivener’s preferences, and turn on "and [[Scrivener links]]" in the Substitutions section.
To use this method, while typing in the text you can enter two double-brackets,type in the title of the item you wish to link to, and then close it with a second pair of brackets, as shown. Scrivener will detect what you are trying to do, and if it finds an exact match to a document, will link it for you automatically. If it does not recognise the text inside the brackets as correlating with an existing title, the New Link sheet will pop-up, giving you the option to either create a new item and place it in the Binder, or via the second tab, “Link to existing document”, navigate to an existing document in the Binder and create a non-literal link. Non-literal links are useful when you wish to link phrases in your text without directly referencing the name of the item you are linking to. Once substitution has been performed, the brackets will be removed.
As with other substitution types, wiki linking works only on newly typed material. If you have previously typed in double-bracketed words, and then enable the option, you will need to re-bracket them.
Usually, "wiki link" refers to the CamelBack convention. But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Doderer's Commentarii

I just read Heimito von Doderer's (1896-1966) Ein Mord, den jeder begeht. I could not put it down until I finished the book. As it turns out, many of his works have been translated into English, including this one. The title in English is: Every Man a Murderer. This is very unfortunate. "Ein Mord, den jeder begeht" means, literally translated "a murder that is committed by everybody." In other words, it talks about a particular kind of murder and alleges that everyone commits that kind of murder. It may follow from this that every man is a murderer, but it also follows that every women is a murderer. But erven "everyone is a murderer" does not capture the meaning because the claim is that everyone is particular kind of murderer. And the book is about that particular kind of murder, which, if I am right, is actually only a kind of homicide, but I may be wrong in identifying the act (and that is part of the enigma). But this is not what this post is about.

Doderer, one of the foremost Austrian authors of the twentieth century, kept a diary for almost his entire life (1920-1966). From about 1934 on he called it "Commentarii.[1] Its nature changed over the years, but they may be called "an infinite conversation with himself." they are Soliloquies just as much as they are notebooks. His novels originate from this writing surface (Schreibfläche). He appeals to Thornton wilder, who is supposed to have said that keeping a diary is "the most important" task a writer has to do.

At some point, Doderer used many different kinds of pens, each with a different color. For most things he used black. For passages he intended to use in short stories or novels, he used green. Blue was reserved for essays and reflections, red for emphasis and marks or tags.

The marks or tags indicated particular contents. "Extrema" or "extr." indicated memories (later he used p. for "Peilung"). Meditations were tagged with "A. d. A." for "Anatomie des Augenblicks" or "Anatomy of the Moment." He had many such tags and he also referred specifically to the pages of the manuscripts of his novels that he was working on. In fact, the Diary also contains reflections on the writing process. He referred to the collection as "das Gedankenwerk — im Sinne von Flechtwerk oder Mauerwerk" (the work of thought — in the sense of network, work of weaving or brick laying).

Sometimes he would glue cuttings from papers into his diary, and at one point he thought it would be good to include other things, such as letters, calling cards, pages from books, recipes or perhaps even gloves. For this, a larger format of cahier would be required, and perhaps even a box that accompanies every volume of the diary. He estimated that six or seven boxes per volume would be sufficient.

There is much more that is fascinating about Doderer's praxis. Let me say her only that many of the things that he did can easily be reproduced with a program like ConnectedText. And the free links that allow you to link any particular entry with any other one remind me of the boxes that thought might acompany his journals.

1. I get my information from François Grosso, "Primum scribere, deinde vivere: Leben und Schreiben im Entstehen am Beispiel der Tagebücher Heimito von Doderers." It must, however, be said that Doderer did not live in accordance with the motto to write first and to live afterwards. It's impossible to do, anyway.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Synchronize between Simplenote and Evernote

Can't make up your mind whether to use Simplenote or Evernote? Why don't you use both? This new service makes it possible.

I haven't used it yet, but I think I will. One thing to consider is that it seems to be centered on Evernote rather than on Simplenote which is described as the "little brother" of Evernote, or as the "short-term memory" that supports long-term memory."


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mark Twain on Notebooks

"It is a troublesome thing for a lazy man to take notes, so I used to try in my young days to pack my impressions in my head. But that can’t be done satisfactorily, so I went from that to another stage– that of making notes in a note-book. But I jotted them down in so skeleton a form that they did not bring back to me what it was I wanted them to furnish. Having discovered that defect, I have mended my ways a good deal in this respect, but still my notes are inadequate. However, there may be some advantage to the reader in this, since in the absence of notes imagination has often to supply the place of facts" (Mark Twain’s Notebooks & Journals, Volume I [1]: 1855-1873, p. 5).[1]


1. It is known that he kept at least 49 Notebooks because they still exist. their format is relatively small: until 1900 he used 4" by 6 1/2," after that appointment books at 2" by 3 1/4".

Friday, June 8, 2012


HypeDyn "(pronounced "hyped in") is a procedural hypertext fiction authoring tool for people who want to create text-based interactive stories that adapt to reader choice. HypeDyn is free to download and open source, and runs on Linux, MacOS and Windows."

It reminds me of Twine which actually seems to be based on TiddlyWiki and is like a Storyspace on the cheap. I have not tried it, but it looks more sophisticated than Twine (and their command line tool Twee, written in Python). For one thing, it allows rules that let the reader choose only certain paths in the story. I doubt this is useful for nonfiction.

In Praise of the Paper Clip

The paper clip apparently was preceded by the straight pin, whose manufacture is described in Adam Smith's The wealth of Nations. The referenced article also contains this quote from Charles dickens about what could be found in a 19th-century office supply store: “Mr. Snagsby has dealt in all sorts of blank forms of legal process; in skins and rolls of parchment; in paper—foolscap, brief, draft, brown, white, whitey-brown, and blotting; in stamps; in office-quills, pens, ink, India-rubber, pounce, pins, pencils, sealing-wax, and wafers; in red tape and green ferret; in pocket-books, almanacs, diaries, and law lists; in string boxes, rulers, inkstands—glass and leaden—pen-knives, scissors, bodkins, and other small office-cutlery; in short, in articles too numerous to mention…”

Should I admit that I prefer Staples?

For thumbtacks which seem to have been invented around the same time, see here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eco on Operating Systems?

It is probably old news to many that Umberto Eco pronounced in 1994 on the difference between MS-DOS and MacIntosh computers, using the analogy of Christian confessions:
Insufficient consideration has been given to the underground religious war that is transforming the modern world: the division between users of the Macintosh computer and users of the MS-DOS-compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the methodical path of the Jesuits. It tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the Kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: the essence of revelations dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation. ...
And what about the machine language that lies beneath both operating systems? Ah, that is the stuff of the Old Testament, Talmudic and cabalistic.[1]
He probably thought this was funny. Am I the only one who feels that this joke has not aged well?

My humorlessness probably has to do with the fact that I was brought up on the Lutheran Catechism and always believed that the Catholic Catechism was essentially an imitation of the Protestant versions.

1. "La Bustina di Minerva," a column supposedly by Umberto Eco, in the September 30, 1994, issue of the Italian journal L'Espresso.

Monday, June 4, 2012


NovoCard is a relatively new iPad application. It allows you to "create 'stacks'—each comprised of an unlimited number of cards on one or more backgrounds. Add your own objects (buttons, fields, pictures) to cards and backgrounds. Fields are searchable, so every stack becomes a mini custom database."

Talk of "stacks, buttons, fields, pictures" reminds of HyperCard. In fact, it is claimed that "'NovoCard captures the simplicity of HyperCard and the joy of making your own apps almost as fast as you can imagine them - right on the iPad!' - J.C. review of version 1.0".

Its scripting language is Novoscript which is characterized as a superset of Javascript. The help and reference files available on the Website give you a good idea what a "stack" looks like in the present version.

NovoCard costs just $3.99. It does not seem to let you do much at this point. (Click on "All Versions" in the the reviews of iTunes to find out a little more.) I have not used it, but it looks interesting and has potential. It seems definitely worth following.

Neo 2

The Neo 2 can"send, save, and download documents wirelessly to Google Docs. It "connects seamlessly—no Web browser distractions—to Google Docs, allowing you to easily transfer files back and forth wirelessly without losing your focus. The combination of NEO 2 and Google Docs provides safe, secure external file back-up, additional file storage, quick and convenient access, and more—all in one easy-to-use, distraction-free wireless writing solution."

I own a Neo and I would have to upgrade to a Neo 2 to take advantage of this. See here. I am tempted!

See also the comments for full disclosure!

21:37 I have mulled this over and decided that I don't need a Neo 2.

Foucault on Analysis

I read today in an Interview of Foucault the admission by Foucault: "All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existences. They show ..."

The only thing such an "analysis" can show is the prejudice of the author who is arguing against what he does not like. The expression "analysis against" is not much more than a contradictio in adiecto. A completely objective analysis may indeed be impossible, but this does not mean one should give up at the beginning.

It's this defeatism that has bothered me from the beginning about this author. Nor does it have much to do with Nietzsche in my view.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Stand up for Something

Not so long agao I asked whether chairs are evil. This led to a suggestion that standing desks are better. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who lived to a ripe old age certainly used one. And it does seem to be true that sitting causes problems with certain parts of the body. "When you're standing, you're bearing weight through the hips, knees, and ankles," says Dr. Andrew C, Hecht, co-chief of spinal surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "When you're sitting, you're bearing all that weight through the pelvis and spine, and it puts the highest pressure on your back discs. Looking at MRIs, even sitting with perfect posture causes serious pressure on your back." It's also blamed for poor circulation, high blood sugar and hypertension. A 2010 issue of the Harvard Health Letter recommends to stand up for your heart.

So, on the advice of a friend I am getting a fancy standup desk at the office. But what about home, where I have very limited space for my home office. I discovered today that an IKEA book shelf of the type "Billy" (Width: 15 3/4 ", Depth: 11 ", Height: 41 3/4 ") does in a pinch. Yes, it has a small surface, but my Acer Aspire AO722-0825 fits quite well, and all the other stuff is available on my sit down desk and in the shelves below.
It's good as a means to make me stand up at least some of the time. What do I use for writing and note-taking in such a situation? Notetab Pro that saves to an outline file in Dropbox. It's almost immediately available on the desktop when I sit down.

If this is the proper posture one should take
then the height is optimal, indeed.

Peeks into Notebooks

This site offers pictures of the notebooks and journals of fifteen famous people. The specimens of Twain, Melville, Einstein, Edison interested me the most.

Looking at such things makes me feel slightly uneasy. There is not anything at this point that I can learn from them objectively speaking. It has more than a tinge of voyeurism — or so it seems to me now.

For a lot more of this sort thing, see this site. In the spirit of open disclosure: I dislike its name.

No further comment!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hoffer and Index Cards

I have written about Eric Hoffer before: Hoffer on the size of Ideas. Recently, I have come across a reference to Tom Bethell's Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher which apparently contains a whole chapter on his way of note-taking. I have ordered, but not yet received it. There is a

Apparently, Hoffer would for all his life "copy onto file cards quotations from whatever he was reading. The thousands of cards that he accumulated, along with the metal cabinets in which they were stored, represent an attempt to compile the wisdom of the ages in aphoristic form, and they show remarkable energy, self-confidence, and ambition. Looking at them now, one can only marvel that the man who so painstakingly copied out these quotations also worked as a longshoreman" (see The Longshoreman Philosopher).

Perhaps the epithet "Longshoreman Philosopher" is a bit misleading, as Hoffer wrote: "by working [as a longshoreman] only Saturday and Sunday (18 hours at pay and a half) I earn 40–50 dollars a week. This to me is rolling in dough. I have no expensive tastes in food, clothing or pleasure. Above all, I have no taste for property." This means, it seems to me, that he always understood himself as something other than a longshoreman. "In a late notebook (1977) he wrote: 'Practically all artists and writers are aware of their destiny and see themselves as actors in a fateful drama. With me, nothing is momentous: obscure youth, glorious old age, fateful coincidences—nothing really matters. I have written a number of good sentences. I have kept free of delusions. I am going to die soon'" (see The Longshoreman Philosopher).

It appears that much of his life was an "act." He had a German accent, read and spoke German well, spoke Hebrew and apparently had a deep knowledge of Botany. Nothing is known about him before 1934 — or rather, the only things known about him before that time are things he related himself. One of his last manuscripts was entitled "Truth Imagined." He claims he was born in Brooklyn, but he may have entered the U.S. around 1934 by way of Mexico at the age of 32 or 36. He may also have been Jewish and thus have had good reasons to leave Germany or Austria around that time, and even better reasons to keep his "immigration" status a secret. He may also have received a solid education in German.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Capture Cards

See this post about Capture Cards. I approve of them and their proposed usage. The Vaultz index box seems cheesy, however.[1]

No further comment!

1. This idea is much more classy.

A Cool Application I Never Used

Hypercard, like many cult applications of earlier times, does not have a direct successor either. See also this earlier post.

No further comment!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Blank Books

I picked up for a $1.00 at Brattle's bookstore (on the way to this year's graduation ceremonies) Alexandra Johnson's Leaving a Trace. I read the whole thing before having to "march" and on the way home. It was worth the Dollar, though I would never have paid full price. It's full of interesting factoids and homely advice. One I found especially interesting is that there are nearly 10 million blank books sold annually in stationery stores. I have a strong suspicion that most of them remain blank.

Other interesting facts: Truman Capote preferred writing in other people’s homes, John Updike had four rooms for writing in his house, each for a different genre of writing (fiction, nonfiction, essays, letters). Anais Nin kept a "decoy" diary just for husbands.

She claims that diaries are about "making connections" (39). I couldn't agree more. She quotes Eudora Welty: "Writing is one way of discovering sequence in experience ... Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves ... Experiences ... Connect and are identified as a larger shape" (140, see also 39) and Heraclitus: "A wonderful harmony arrives from joining together the seemingly unconnected" (54).

On the whole, I find the book too "preachy" and too naive. Thus she advices one to keep a "gratitude journal," for instance, and claims that "a journal is always a self-portrait, its narrative still evolving" (123). Nice, but is it really? I kept many journals in blank books or, more frequently, in Composition books, but most of them had little to do with life and much with work, that is, note-taking.

They have little to do with the ten supposed hidden patterns in all journals, longing, fear, mastery, (intentional) silences; key influences; hidden lessons; secret gifts; challenges; unfinished business; untapped potential. That list seems more than a bit naive and haphazard to me.

Secret gift? Intentional silences? What about misery and absence of talent? She does talk about them, but not as much as it seems necessary to me.

"Diaries are the self's first drafts" (151), she claims. But who is then writing these drafts? And why does the self need drafts. It's at the very least highly questionable whether the self is a "narrative" at all. Misery could lie this way.

There are better uses for blank books than writing "the self's first drafts." One of them is to leave them blank. Another one is to take notes, forgetting self-portraits and evolving narratives.