Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Electronic Journaling

Apart from other kinds of note-taking software, I have always found electronic journals useful. "Journal" here means nothing else than "notes organized in temporal sequence." At first, I just used a Word file with a template that mimicked Notepad's log feature.[1] I later transferred all these entries into Ascend (in 1993) and fooled around with other programs. In 1998 I bought The Journal. I used this program until May 2010 (upgrading to versions 3 and 4 in the mean time). In May 2010 another upgrade for version 5 ($24.95 US) would have been necessary. I did not upgrade because The Journal had become too bloated in the meantime. It included and includes many features I never used and saw myself never using. Many of them "too cute" by far (calendar charms, MemoryGrabber, Writing Prompts, etc., etc.). At the same time, features I would have liked: easier linking between entries, for instance, were not implemented. Global Search was always fairly slow and the interface not quite standard. It seemed to go in a direction I just did not like.

So, I did not upgrade and used the money to buy Advanced Diary. It's much more simple, and it has a clean interface. While it is not perfect—could be faster in loading, for instance—it does everything I want it to do, and it does so without fuss. I saw it described somewhere as "Wordpad with a calendar." This is not quite fair—it allows multiple notebooks or journals, for instance, and has a tree. It also has a password function and encrypts its files.

Still, the categorization "Wordpad with a calendar" is not entirely inappropriate either. It's just that I think there is nothing fundamentally wrong with an application that aims at being "Wordpad with a calendar," anyway. One good thing about The Journal, it perfectly exported all the entries to RTF, which allowed me to import them without loss into Advanced Diary. Meanwhile this application has also had a (free) upgrade to version 3 (but it has become more expensive for new users).[2]

Advanced Diary works well with ConnectedText. It accepts its URLs and thus makes it easy to cross reference the daily entries with my other notes. In some ways, it would prefer to keep my Journal in ConnectedText as well, since it handles date entries quite well. The only thing that keeps me from doing it at this time is that you cannot yet password protect ConnectedText files or projects.[3] But this feature seems to be planned for the near future. Since Advanced Diary also exports very well to different formats (and ConnectedText imports them), the switch will be easy. I have tried it already, but for now I keep on using Advanced Diary.

1. For those who don't remember or who never used this feature: You just put ".log" at the very beginning of a file, and then, every time you open the file, the date (10:04 6/30/2010, for instance) automagically appears at the beginning of the file so that you can take notes under it. Notetab also has this feature (as do some other editors). Will Duquette's Notebook, which I used for a time in tandem with The Journal, implements this idea very nicely, by the way.

2. Whether I would pay $39.95 for it, I do not know. There is a free version (2.1, I think), but it does not handle twenty years of data very well (actually: not at all would be a better way of putting it).

3. I do not have any deep or dark secrets, but I do not want everyone to be able easily to get at all my information and musings. Some things are better kept private—or so I believe.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Darwin's Notebooks

Here is a Website that contains Darwin's field notebooks and an interesting introduction to them.

A quote by Darwin from the Website: "[A naturalist] ought to acquire the habit of writing very copious notes, not all for publication, but as a guide for himself. He ought to remember Bacon's aphorism, that Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man; and no follower of science has greater need of taking precautions to attain accuracy; for the imagination is apt to run riot when dealing with masses of vast dimensions and with time during almost infinity."

This does not hold just for naturalists—I think.[1]

No further comment!

1. See also Darwin on collecting notes with the intention not to publish and Confronting Disorderly Impressions

Writing as "Confronting the Disorderly Impressions in Our Minds"

"Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. This is obviously true of forms such as the diary, which are inherently solitary. But even those of us who write for publication can conclude, once we have clarified certain thoughts, that these thoughts are not especially valuable, or are not entirely convincing, or perhaps are simply not thoughts we want to share with others, at least not now. For many of us who love the act of writing—even when we are writing against a deadline with an editor waiting for the copy—there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other reader. I believe that most writing worth reading is the product, at least to some degree, of this extraordinarily intimate confrontation between the disorderly impressions in the writer’s mind and the more or less orderly procession of words that the writer manages to produce on the page."—Quote from Alone with Words.

The rest of the article is worth reading too.

One note of several I could make: The disorderly impressions to be confronted may well be in our notebooks or electronic files. In fact, I think that's where they are most likely before we can confront them properly.[1]

1. See also Darwin on collecting notes with the intention not to publish.

Monday, June 28, 2010


ResophNotes is another Windows application that syncs with the SimpleNote Website.

It looks more like Notational Velocity than Notes does, and synchronization works very well.

I like it! It seems to give me the best of both worlds (iTouch and PC) for ephemeral notes.

It also supports “Markdown” (text-to-HTML conversion) with Preview, though I do not need that as I am wedded to wiki markup.

Goethe's Rumpelkasten

Goethe kept some of his information in boxes, papers loosely held together by strings, and as stuff thrown into drawers without any apparent order.[1] He often went back to this "rummage box" in order to work these materials into his publications. His Faust clearly originated in this way. He himself called the drama suggestively "a family of sponges."

Christoph Martin Wieland, another poet in Weimar found that "Goethe work in general in such a fashion that he "works out individual parts and then very loosely connects them with each other."

If this sounds very much like writing in chunks or the fieldstone method it is because it is similar.

Wieland did not think that this method always led to good results. Rather, it often led to "remarkable unevenness." Whether or not Wieland's criticism is apt, one might wonder whether unevenness is essential to the method or an accidental feature of a writer's habits. I would guess that it is the latter. I also think that Wieland exaggerates the unevenness. Even though Faust II is remarkably uneven, other works are composed rather rigorously.

1. See also Thomas Mann, "On Geoethe's Faust."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Goethe's Pencil

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe explains in his autobiography, that in writing poetry he preferred pencils "I liked best to get hold of a lead pencil, because I could write most readily with it; whereas the scratching and spluttering of the pen would sometimes wake me from my somnambular poetizing, confuse me, and stifle a little conception in its birth. For the poems thus created I had a particular reverence." See Truth and Poetry: From my Own Life, trans. Rev.A.J.W Morrison, Bell & Daldy: London 1868.

Well, I don't write poetry and there is no danger of anything waking me from "somnabular poeticizing," but I still like pencils—mechanical pencils, that is.

I wonder what Goethe would have made of typewriters.

On Edit- and View-Mode

Programs that involve markup language usually have an edit and a view mode. Some desktop wikis are mode-less, but they usually pay for this with more complicated linking procedures.

There is nothing wrong with different modes. Even Emacs has them—and major and minor modes to boot. In any case, typing Alt-e, which switches view- or edit-mode on or off in ConnectedText has become second nature during the five years I have been using it. I don't even notice pressing these keys.

This is where some programs a program like RedNotebook is are very weak.[1] It also has edit and view mode, but it does not allow you to switch between them with a simple keyboard command. It has some for search, save, quit, etc. But for edit and view, which arguably you use the most: nothing. Instead, you have to click a small icon. RedNotebook is by no means the only program that lacks this feature. It bothered me already in Will Duquette's Notebook way back in 2003.

There is a problem with the edit and view modes in RedNotebook: they are not clearly identifiable. In ConnectedText, I use a different font and color for the editor (light yellow) versus white. So I allways know which mode I am in. Yesterday, while fooling around with RedNotebook, I pasted a few pages into it. Or rather, I thought I had pasted a few different pages into it. But I was in View Mode, and it just looked as if I had pasted something into it. (This is particularly devious. If it did not "take" a paste at all, I might also realize that I did something wrong. But then again, I don't think that I did anything wrong. It's the program that is wrong.

Conclusion: in a modal program it should be easy to switch between two modes (using shortcut keys) and the modes should be clearly identifiable without any effort.

1. Monday, June 28, 2010: Changed in lights of WelcomeTo Isherwood's comments.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Schopenhauer's Notebooks

Schopenhauer took notes in notebooks and on loose pages throughout his life. Ten volumes have survived:
  1. Reisebuch 1818-1820 [Travel Book]
  2. Foliant 1821-1822, 1826-1828 [Folio Book]
  3. Brieftasche 1822-1824 [Letter Box]
  4. Quartant 1824-1826 [Quarto Book]
  5. Adversaria 1828-1830
  6. Cogitata 1830-1833
  7. Cholerabuch 1831-1832 [Cholera Book]
  8. Pandecta 1832-1837
  9. Spicilegia 1837-1852
  10. Senilia 1852-1860
Together, they amount to 2820 pages in quarto or folio. Some of these are just for notes, some of them are better described as manuscript books.

Throughout his life he took notes and kept quotes on pieces of paper he first kept in a map and then transcribed them into his note books. Sometime he wrote down ideas just as they came to him. Quotes and thoughts by others he usually worked into his own thoughts and did not just list them as he had discovered them. He noted also plans and expenses, observations, additions to his works.

Hübscher notes a marked difference between the entries before the publication of the World as Will and Representation, which were characterized by a search for a tenable position, by doubts and tentative explanations and solutions of problems, and the later entries, which are more judgmental. Having read many of them recently, I cannot agree. As a student he took notes in Fichte's lecture notes. The first lecture has in the margin, written in English: "Though this be madness yet there's method in it." Hardly non-judgmental.[1] In fact a "non-judgmental Schopenhauer" appears to be an oxymoron.

In 1830 Schopenhauer made an alphabetical register of subjects in the different volumes: (Repertorium zu meinen M.S.-Büchern. He continuously updated it from that time until his death. It consists of 132 pages.

Schopenhauer had the habit of crossing out entries that found their way into his published works.

The Notebooks are contained in Arthur Schopenhauer, Der handschriftliche Nachlaß in fünf Bänden. 5 vols. Ed. Arthur Hübscher. Frankfurt/Main: Verlag Waldemar Kramer, 1966-75. There was a reprint in 1985 by the Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, which by now is prohibitively expensive even as used book.

1. Handschriftlicher Nachlaß II, 82

Book on a Stick

Book on a Stick is a modified version of Wiki on a Stick, that is, a wiki that "lives in one self-modifying XHTML file." It is clearly inspired by TiddlyWiki. In fact, Book on a Stick even uses the TiddlySaver.jar.

Click to enlarge!

It uses WikiCreole as its markup language.[1] But it also can do footnotes—sort of.[2]

Click to enlarge!

I dislike the editor because it is looks very busy:

Click to enlarge!

An interesting application. It won't me make switch, however.[3]

1. See also WikiCreole on Taking Note.
2. It does not help that the footnotes appeared on the top of the page when I tried it out. But I was able to change the CSS entry for the footnotes from "margin-top:-3em;" to "margin-bottom:-1em;" This makes the footnotes appear correctly.
3. Also, it seems that you cannot save entries in Chrome.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

RedNotebook and Txt2Tags

RedNotebook is a simple diary or notebook application written in Python. It uses a subset of the txt2tags markup for formatting: Headings (but only one kind === Heading ===), bullet lists, bold, italics, underlining, and strike through. The cloud feature looks cool, but in the end the program is rudimentary. If you need a simple electronic journal, I would recommend it. It's written in Python.[1] It is available for Unix, the Mac and Windows.

The txt2tags markup is actually very close to the ConnectedText markup, and I am tempted to write a script that converts from CT to text2tags, if only because txt2tags allows you to import to a variety of other formats (including TeX).[2] But I am not sure whether TeX isn't overkill for my purposes.

1. There is another application written in Python that is supposed to be a wiki. It's called Wixi. It is also based on txt2tags, and it implements the entire feature set as far as I can see. But the wiki links are designed rather clumsily—or so it seemed to me. It also hung up on me a few times. It also runs on Unix, Mac, and Windows (and is probably the worst on the latter).

2. There is at least one more problem. Txt2tags does not do footnotes which are much more important to me than tables. Just take a look at this blog :)

Theological Markup Language

No it's not that there is now a theological dimension to markup languages. Theological Markup Language is "new markup language that is being used to mark up texts for the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and other projects. This XML application can be thought of as HTML with additions for electronic books and rich digital libraries, with special support for theological needs such as scripture references and Strongs numberings."

No further comment!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ConnectedText Markup to RTF

I will be on sabbatical next year, and I have seriously started to write on my new book in ConnectedText, but eventually the different topics will end up in a word processor. Accordingly, I have updated the Rtf conversion script.[1] It now needs no text editor.[2] Instead, it writes the file directly (and then opens the directory). The file name is the current time and date with an rtf extension. I have changed the font to Times New Roman.

clipboard :=
Send ^c
clipboard = %clipboard%

StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, %A_SPACE%`/`/, %A_SPACE%`{`\i%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, %A_SPACE%`(`/`/, %A_SPACE%`{`\i%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `"/`/, `"`{`\i%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `'/`/, `'`{`\i%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `/`/%A_SPACE%, `}%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `/`/`n`r, `}`,, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `/`/%A_EndChar%, `}`,, All

StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, %A_SPACE%`*`*, %A_SPACE%`{`\b%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `*`*%A_SPACE%, `}%A_SPACE%, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `*`*%A_EndChar%, `}`,, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `n`r, `\par, All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `[`!, \chftn{\footnote \pard\plain \s246 \fs20 {\up6\chftn} , All
StringReplace, clipboard, clipboard, `!`], `}, All
clipboard = `{`\rtf1`\ansi`{`\fonttbl`\f0`\froman\fprq2`\fcharset0 Times New Roman;`}`\f0`\pard %clipboard%
FileAppend, %clipboard%, C:\Users\xxx\Documents\ConnectedText\Projects\xxx\Files\%A_Now%.rtf
Run, C:\Users\Manfred\Documents\ConnectedText\Projects\xxx\Files

I especially like this script because it transforms ConnectedText footnotes into usable Rtf (or doc) footnotes. It also does bold and italics, but it does not do tables or any other fancy formatting. I just don't need them for basic academic writing in Philosophy. I use ":" for blocked quotes in ConnectedText, and it is easy to search for those in a word processor and replace them with proper formatting

Works perfectly in the MS Works word processor.[3] I run the script compiled from the Scripts Menu. (If anyone wants to use it, they have to replace the "xxx" with whatever fits their file system.

I tried several commercial programs to transform HTML or XML with them. They did not perform as well as this home-made and admittedly homely script.

1. For the older version, see Wiki Markup to Rtf.
2. It never needed a text editor. It just didn't occur to me to take the simpler route.
3. For no apparent reason, Atlantis (the word processor I use) does not put the footnote references into superscript. After I open the file in Works and save it as rtf, doc or docx, it does recognize it properly, however. Seems to have something to do with different rtf-versions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The End of Luminotes

I just found out that Luminotes has shut down. The Website says: " has shut down. Thanks for all of your support and enthusiasm. I couldn't have asked for nicer users. Interested in what Luminotes used to look like? Check out the tour. If you're still using Luminotes Desktop or Luminotes Server on your own, check out the Luminotes Community support group. Note that this is a 3rd-party group, so they won't be able to answer any account questions about"

I have to say that I regret this very much, even though I myself did not use it (since I use ConnectedText). For earlier comments, see Luminotes and More on Luminotes. I would have thought that there was room for applications at several different levels of sophistication in the realm of wikis. Too bad that this does not seem to be true.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Your Brain on Computers

More on the (supposed) evils of multi-tasking in the New York Times: “We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

We have been doing this for thousands of years—maybe longer. What is the alternative? And who is "we," anyway?

Oh ... and listen to this: “The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.” Really? What about ... apple pie?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Writers' Rooms

I don't think there is anything magical about writer's rooms, just as I don't think there is any magic in writers' hats. They are very ordinary things. What makes for the magic is enclosed or covered up by them. Still, inquiring minds ...

No further comment!

Apple, HTML5, and Webstandards

Try one of the demos at Apple HTML5. The Website seems to be about Web Standards; and there is the claim: "These web standards are open, reliable, highly secure, and efficient. They allow web designers and developers to create advanced graphics, typography, animations, and transitions. Standards aren’t add-ons to the web. They are the web. And you can start using them today."

If you try to run one of the demos (without Safari), you get the following message:

You’ll need to download Safari to view this demo.

This demo was designed with the latest web standards supported by Safari. If you’d like to experience this demo, simply download Safari. It’s free for Mac and PC, and it only takes a few minutes.

So the standards that "aren't add-ons to the web," but "are the web," need a free browser of a particular sort? Doesn't sound very "open" to me.[1]

One might argue that, strictly speaking, there is no contradiction in saying both: "The standards are open." and "We will allow only restricted access to what we have created in accordance with open standards." It's sort of like saying: "There is universal justice." and "We will allow only restricted access to what we have created in accordance with universal justice." Nothing wrong with that—or is there?

Still, we should remember that this is not about justice. It's just about the Web and a "business model." Microsoft may be said to have tried something like this before. It did not work. This won't work either—I hope.

1. See also Apple's "HTML 5 and Web Standards" Showcase Criticized for Not Being Standard At All

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Twig is supposed to be "a powerful yet lightweight tool for capturing and cultivating your ideas. You’ll be able to start using Twig right away, and yet you’ll have all the power you need to as your knowledge accumulates and your understanding grows." You can buy Twig preview 1.0.1 for the Macintosh. It will set you back $69.00.

It's supposed to work with TinderBox, the flagship application of Eastgate Systems. In other words, Tinderbox and Twig can share data "seamlessly" by reading each others files.

The main advantage of Twig as compared to TinderBox seems to be ease of use (which is certainly not one of the strengths of TinderBox as I recall).[1]

I will not use it because I (unapologetically) use Windows 7. A Windows version of Tinderbox has been announced for years, but never materialized (and I doubt that I would use it now, anyway).

1. See also the reference to an introduction to Tinderbox. The fifth installment of this introduction has just been posted.