Friday, April 23, 2010


DevonPad is in "closed beta." It is a companion to DevonThink that runs on the iPhone or the iTouch. The site for DevonPad contains screenshots of the program designed to synchronize with the desktop application. It also contains the following note:

"Please don’t contact us to ask if you can join the beta group. The iPhone Developer Program allows us to install beta software on up to 100 devices. We need to keep a few slots in the list for iPad testing so please understand that we cannot extend the beta group at the moment."

Talk about restrictive conditions! Apple imposes limits at every level. This approach would never do in UNIX and Windows. One of the reasons I will never surrender my entire digital life to this "big brother."

I wonder when this approach will begin to backfire.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


LifeHacker has published an entry on NoteSync, a note-taking application that syncs with Google Documents. It runs on Windows, Macs, and Linux.

An offline mode is fully supported. The program can be found here.

I have never used Google Documents; and I think I will stick with Simplenote for now, just because it does not work with the iTouch. Apparently, they are working on an iPhone application, however.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Writing Tools

Mark Pilgrim, "a developer and advocate for Google," who has "written open source books," says in an interview that people constantly ask him which editor he uses for writing. His answer: It does not matter. "Picking the right text editor will not make you a better writer. Writing will make you a better writer. Writing, and editing, and publishing, and listening – really listening – to what people say about your writing."

I am not sure about the listening part, but I would agree that the only way to get a book written is by writing it, and the tools you use in writing are, I would agree, not as important: Whether you use a pencil, pen, typewriter, computer, word processor, text editor, etc. is less important than the chair on which you sit (or the desk at which you stand).

This observation does not apply to note-taking or the storage medium of your drafts, which constitute necessary conditions of the possibility of writing—or so I would argue. That's why this is a blog about note-taking and not about pencils and pens.

None of this means, of course, that I don't have a prurient interest in pencils, pens, typewriters, computers, word processors, text editors, etc.

Adorno's Notebooks

Theodor Adorno also used Notebooks for rough copies and called them by different names such as: "Schwarzes Buch", "Buntes Buch", "Grünes Buch".

Apparently, 45 Notebooks survive. The first is from 1932, the others from between 1938 and 1969.

I haven't seen any of them.[1]

1. Adorno wrote his drafts with a typewriter, apparently an Underwood. See also Adorno and Nietzsche on Typewriters. It appears that he would have had an aversion to the computer, had he lived to be able to use one. Though one might also argue that it was not the computer he was attacking, but the kind of thinking necessary for creating a computer and the programs that run on them. I doubt, however, that this wrinkle makes his aversion to computational logic more rational. See Adorno on Computerized Thinking.

Proust's Notebooks

Proust also used the notebook method of writing; and his notebooks were as chaotic as those of Agatha Christie.[1] The French equivalent of "Notebook" is "cahier." His cahiers can be described as "a confused jumble of passages crossed out, revised, rearranged, and perfected." This shows that chaos is more typical of this method of writing than one might think.

What is perhaps most interesting is that he also named his Notebooks and referred to them by name. Some of these names were: "Fridolin", "Vénusté", "Querqueville", "Dux", "Babouche", "cahier vert", "gros cahier rouge", "petits cahiers Kirby Beard". The names provide a method of cross-referencing entries which might otherwise be difficult to find.

1. See also Mary Gordon on Handwriting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Agatha Christie's "Notebook-Method"

From a review of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making: "The contents of the notebooks are as multi-dimensional as their Escher-like structure. They include fully worked-out scenes, historical background, lists of character names, rough maps of imaginary places, stage settings, an idle rebus (the numeral three, a crossed-out eye, and a mouse), and plot ideas that will be recognizable to any Christie fan: "Poirot asks to go down to country—finds a house and various fantastic details," "Saves her life several times," "Inquire enquire—both in same letter." What's more, in between ominous scraps like "Stabbed through eye with hatpin" and "influenza depression virus—Stolen? Cabinet Minister?" are grocery lists: "Newspapers, toilet paper, salt, pepper …" There was no clean line between Christie's work life and her family life. She created household ledgers, and scribbled notes to self. ... Even Christie's second husband, the archeologist Sir Max Mallowan ... jotted down calculations [in it]. [Her] daughter Rosalind practiced penmanship, and the whole family kept track of their bridge scores alongside notes like, "Possibilities of poison … cyanide in strawberry … coniine—in capsule?"

Makes one wonder about what makes the notebooks secret.

The book actually seems to consist of excerpts from the 73 notebooks Christie kept during her writing careers. The Chaos seems to have been the result of her habit of keeping many notebooks concurrently and writing writing hapharzdly in all of them over many years.

Serendipity ruled! Or did it?

In any case, I will probably buy this book (soon), even though I have not read an Agatha Christie novel in more than forty years.

Monday, April 19, 2010

One Fact, One Card ...

Beatrice Webb wrote in the Appendix of My Apprenticeship of 1926 that "The method of writing one fact on one card enables the scientific worker to break up his subject-matter, so as to isolate and examine at his leisure its various component parts, and to recombine them in new and experimental groupings in order to discover which sequences of events have a causal significance."

She claimed: "To put it paradoxically, by exercising your reason on the separate facts displayed, in an appropriate way, on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of separate pieces of paper, you may discover which of a series of hypotheses best explains the processes underlying the rise, growth, change or decay of a given social institution, or the character of the actions and reactions of different elements of a given social environment."

This advice has lost none of its saliency, even though computer programs allow you to create "cards" or notes of great length. To restrict yourself to one detail, fact, item, idea, or thought is not crippling but enabling. There is great virtue in breaking things down into their constituent parts. Luhmann spoke in this regard of "reduction with a view of building complexity."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Notational Velocity for Windows?

December 5, 2011: The links do not work any longer and the application seems to have disappeared:

Notes [was] billed as a windows version of Notational Velocity.

It uses the json format for its a database; saves text automatically; needs no dll; has search (but not incremental search).

Integration with Simplenote is planned!

But why the big buttons? They are not really contributing to simplicity.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Multi-tasking Again

Why we can do just two things at a time.

No further comment!