Saturday, October 30, 2010

Notational Velocity versus ResophNotes

I am aware that I am comparing "apples" and "oranges" here, but I thought it might be interesting to apply the same (flawed) principles used in the comparison of Notational Velocity and Nottingham (both on the Mac) to compare Notational Velocity and Resophnotes (on the PC);

Both are free:
Notational Velocity: 10/10
ResphNotes: 10/10

Both install from Zip Files. Notational Velocity's Zip File is 1.6 MB, ResophNotes is 7.2 MB. Apparently Notational Velocity is 4.1MB on disk; ResophNotes is just 0.708 MB on disk, but if you look at the entire folder it's 16.4 MB. Seems like a clear advantage for Notational velocity, even though it is of course tricky to compare file sizes on different OS's.
Notational Velocity: 6/10
ResphNotes: 4/10

I think this is trivial, perhaps even frivolous, but I like ResophNotes' Icon much better. (I have no idea why "Icon" should be as important as "Features," i.e. have the same weight, but here it goes.)
Notational Velocity: 6/10
ResphNotes: 8/10

The general layout is similar, though Resophnotes does not show the dates viewer as Notational Velocity does. Some view this as a shortcoming. I don't, but I will deduct two points. On the other hand, ResphNotes has tags, which Notational Velocity has not. This seems to me worth at least three points.
Notational Velocity: 7/10
ResphNotes: 8/10

Ease of Use
Both are minimal. You need to press Ctrl-N to write a new note and cannot just start typing in the search box. I like this better, but I will keep the points the same.
Notational Velocity: 7/10
ResphNotes: 7/10

Notational Velocity allows formatting (bold, italics, underline). ResophNotes doesn't (because it is a plain text application). I would not call this a shortcoming as I use wiki-formatting to format (//,**,__) and almost everything ultimately ends up in ConnectedText, but others would most certainly look at it as a short-coming (-1). On the other hand, ResophNotes accepts Markdown, which can be translated into HTML and viewed in ResphNotes itself (and copied and pasted into an application capable of rtf (formatting remains) (+1). ResphNotes also allows you to e-mail a note. ResophNotes does not encrypt—not important to me, but it may be important to others (-1).
Notational Velocity 8/10
ResphNotes: 7/10

Notational Velocity gets 7.3/10, ResophNotes also gets 7.3/10.

As I said at the beginning, I know I am comparing Apple and PC applications (and if you have not realized by now that my tongue is firmly in my cheek, you have missed something).

Still, I think this application on the apple platform is no better than the application on the PC platform. Both allow
  • Modeless Operation: Searching for notes is not a separate action; rather, it is the primary interface.
  • Incremental Search: Searching encompasses all notes’ content and occurs instantly with each key pressed
  • Mouseless Interaction: The window was designed for keyboard input above all else, and thus has no buttons.
  • Data Instead of Documents: There is no manual “saving” in Notational Velocity; all modifications take effect immediately.
  • and, most importantly, both sync with SimpleNote.
If encryption of personal notes, native italics, bolding and underlining are important to you, switch to OSX (or another PC-application). I wouldn't ...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Notational Velocity versus Nottingham

This is a comparative review of Notational Velocity and Nottingham.[1] Notational Velocity wins 5-1.

Seems fair to me, if only because Nottingham for the most part just "copies" the freeware application Notational Velocity and then charges $19.95.

No further comment!

1. See also Notational Velocity and Nottingham.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beta Version of Scrivener for Windows

You can get the beta version of Scrivener for Windows here. I downloaded it last night (which was difficult, due—I suppose—to the heavy volume of people downloading it.

I fooled around with it for a few hours last night. I can say this:
  • it looks and behaves very much like the Mac version, if I remember correctly
  • it imports rtf files properly (footnotes and all); I exported a ConnectedText topic to rtf and then imported it into Scrivener—worked like a charm
  • I like the full-screen mode and the statistics feature
  • it did not crash on me once during the three hours I fooled around with it
  • it only seems to have an English spell checker—bummer
  • its paragraph formatting is still very rudimentary
  • the corkboard view does just as little in this version than it did on the Mac (but I am sure many people will like it)
It's certainly better already than yWriter, Writer's Cafe, PageFour, and any other Windows "writing" software I know. But I still prefer ConnectedText because
  1. ConnectedText does everything I want out of a writing program. Scrivener does not do a thing more that I would really want, even it it looks pretty.
  2. The Research capabilities of Scrivener do not measure up to ConnectedText

I hope I am not unfair, because it is just a first beta. In any case, I might change my mind on it and consider it a worthy companion to ConnectedText, sort of like many people on the Mac work with a combo of DevonThink (or TinderBox) and Scrivener. I just don't see it at the moment!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Controlling Ideas

In a short essay, Paul Graham talks about what he calls an ambient thought or "the top idea in your mind." As he observes, everyone who has "worked on difficult problems is probably familiar with the phenomenon of working hard to figure something out, failing, and then suddenly seeing the answer a bit later while doing something else. There's a kind of thinking you do without trying to. I'm increasingly convinced this type of thinking is not merely helpful in solving hard problems, but necessary. The tricky part is, you can only control it indirectly."

I think he is right on both counts:
  • there is a "kind of thinking you do without trying to" and
  • "you can only control it indirectly"
I have posted about this before in Planning for Unexpected Discoveries, for instance. But it appears to me that for those of us who (must) spend time thinking and writing, there is nothing better than regular writing sessions to enforce control over what is the top idea in our minds. See also The Rule of 200 and Writing Advice. This is how you can indirectly control your ideas and their flow. But see also Sleeping and Making Connections.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Extending ConnectedText

ConnectedText is a very capable application. It's almost always open on my computer, as I do all serious writing and note-taking in it. One of the good things is that it can easily be extended. Here are the extensions I use:
  1. There are first of all the Plugins shipped with ConnectedText. I list them in the order of importance to me
    • Python Plugin (I have a number of scripts that make topic processing easier)
    • Highlight Plugin (very useful in editing—especially for the footnote feature)
    • RSS Plugin
    • Ploticus Plugin
    • Graphviz Plugin
    • Sparkline Plugin
    • TeX Plugin (I have really no use for this one)
    • LilyPond Plugin (I have really no use for this one either)
  2. AutoHotkey; I use it for everything from inserting Umlaute, formatting, and other ConnectedText Commands, as well as autocorrecting
  3. WordWeb Pro; one right click on a word gives access to this Thesaurus (there is a free version available)
  4. ResophNotes; press +^R, ^N (for a new note); I use it for quick notes that I write down so as to not to break my concentration, saving the entries as text files in a directory.[1] Resophnotes syncs its files on all my computers and can be easily imported into ConnectedText (in fact, since I only import from it, all I have to do is to select Project/Import and press Enter.[2]

1. ResophNotes can be used as a front end for Simplenote on a PC. So it also gives you access to notes you make on your iPod.

2. ResophNotes thus also replaces the AutoHotkey script I wrote about in Self-Control.


This project "was registered on on Oct 17, 2010, and ... described by the project team as follows: Wikiexe is a simple, easy to use, light desktop wiki. It's designed to use MediaWiki skin, syntax (small subset) and xml export format."

It sounded interesting enough. I downloaded it in order to try it out, but it never even started on my machine (Windows 7, 64 bit), so I had to uninstall it without trying it. It's clearly not ready. So I keep wondering how small the subset of MediaWiki formatting really is.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

DeLillo on Paper and Pixels

DeLillo on the threat of the electronic form: "The world is becoming increasingly customized, altered to individual specifications. This shrinking context will necessarily change the language that people speak, write, and read. Here’s a stray question (or a metaphysical leap): Will language have the same depth and richness in electronic form that it can reach on the printed page? Does the beauty and variability of our language depend to an important degree on the medium that carries the words? Does poetry need paper?"[1]

He does not answer the question, but in asking it, he suggests not only that the question makes sense, but also that possible answers need to take into account some sort of "shrinking" in the beauty and variability of "our" language.

I think it is, as one used to say during the time I was (un)fortunate enough to be a graduate student of philosophy, a "pseudo-question." If poetry really needs paper, turn on your laser printer (or, if you must, your inkjet)! And ... no I don't think that electronic media will kill print. I do collect mechanical pencils, even though I do most of my writing "electronically."

1. "Individual specification" is not necessarily bad. When I go out to eat, I do not go to MacDonald's (and just because it does not cater to a "shrunken" context). I like to go to go to a restaurant that targets a smaller segment of the population, i.e. people who share my tastes. I also thought I was reading DeLillo and Markson because they were reflective in ways most people who speak, write, and read are not.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scrivener and Alphasmart

There is a topic on Alphasmart in the Scrivener Forum.

By the way, Umlaute created with the compose feature on an Alphasmart with an English keyboard, show up as gibberish when "sent" to an application on the PC (and the Mac, I would suppose). They show up correctly when the files are transferred with the Neo Manager (which also works with Windows 7 (64 bit).[1]

Scrivener for Windows is supposed to be released on the 25th of October.

1. I use ";a", ";A", etc. in AutoHotkey to produce "ä", "Ä", etc. on the PC. If I use ";a", ";A", etc. in an Alphasmart file and then send it to an application, the Umlaute also get translated properly by AutoHotkey. I prefer this solution, as it is quicker and more convenient.

The Horror of the "Everything Bucket"

See Avoid the Everything Bucket for a revival of some interesting confusions about "buckets," applications, proprietary data, hierarchical file structure, etc.

And I do not use Evernote either ...

No further comment!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I recently switched from the traditional AutoHotkey, whose development seems to have stopped, to AtutoHotkey_L (available at the very same Website). If you ask why:
  • it has a Windows 64 bit version
  • it encodes UTF-16 natively
  • it supports COM natively
  • it supports objects
The items are listed in the order of importance to my needs. The Windows 64 version runs faster on my machine, and the UTF-16 support makes things easier in relation to ConnectedText. I will have to learn how to use COM and objects, but I will try.

All the scripts I had written for the old version seem to work. I only had to disable some lines, like "Transform Clipboard, Unicode, %UC%" that were needed for ConnectedText (and are now moot).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

More on Kindle's "Clippings" File

From the Kindle Website: "The 'My Clippings' file contains all of the bookmarks, highlights, notes, and clippings ... made while reading on Kindle ... The contents of the "My Clippings" file are available to read later or to copy to your computer ... The "My Clippings" file is ... a TXT file ..."

"All ... notes are also automatically backed up on Amazon servers ... Note that your 'My Clippings' file is not stored on Your Media Library." This holds only for books purchased from Amazon. Notes from free books obtained elsewhere (like will not show up.

Most importantly, perhaps: "On most books, you may clip up to 10% of the total text ... If you reach the clipping limit, although your highlights will continue to be marked in the book itself, the highlighted sections will no longer be added separately to your 'My Clippings" file.'" All notes—that is even those from books not received through Amazon—show up here.

I have seen complaints about the last restriction as an unreasonable undisclosed limit of the Kindle. It is neither (or so it seems to me). The limit is disclosed (at least at his time), and 10% seems reasonable. I wonder how many of us wrote down in long-hand or type writer more than 10% of a book as notes. For a 250 page book, 10% amounts to between 35 and 50 (double-spaced) type-written pages.

Mind you, there are two or three books on which I took that many notes over the years ... but you would probably want to own the print version of such books anyway. When note-taking is made easy by electronic means we tend to take more notes than necessary and to think less about why we take them. This is not new. I have made many photocopies of complete articles that did not do me much good either.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Using the Kindle as a Personal Notepad

Personal Notepad is an e-book designed just for notes. Pretty primitive, but it works.

There are other interesting articles on the EduKindle site.

Notescraper exports your Kindle Notes into Evernote. It uses the Website to get the notes and works only on the Mac.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Text Editing on a Kindle 3

I broke down and bought a Kindle 3 (Wifi). I found $139 was just a little below the pain threshold that kept me from buying earlier versions. It is pretty good. It's thin, and the screen is very readable. So far I like it. And I am glad I waited.

So far, I read one book on it, which I did not like: Albert Laszlo Barabasi (2010) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do. I bought it because I had very much liked Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means (2003). Don't buy this one, unless you interested in 16th-century Hungarian history, with which every second chapter deals. Nor do these history chapters have any deep connection with the purported topic. They just dilute the discussion of what is promised by the title. And the thesis that many events in the natural worlds follow—including our own lives—exhibit a power law distribution or tendency to cluster into "bursts," is rather underdeveloped (or so it seems to me). The whole book is thoroughly underwhelming. Thus I found vaguely interesting but unsurprising the idea that "we are forced to set priorities—even the greats, Einstein and Darwin, are not exempt—from which delays, bursts, and power laws are bound to emerge," and "if we set priorities, our response time becomes rather uneven, which means that most tasks are promptly executed and a few will have to wait forever." The GTD crowd has been preaching this for a long, long time ... and what this book brings to bear on this phenomenon is very little.

However, what I found interesting in reading this book on a physical Kindle is that the Kindle stores highlighted passages and notes that you can add yourself in a text file, called "My clippings.txt."[1] Since the Kindle looks to the PC like an ordinary an ordinary USB drive. You can open this file in other applications, edit it, move it to the desktop, send it to someone, etc.

A typical note looks like this:
Bursts (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi)
- Note Loc. 467 | Added on Friday, October 08, 2010, 01:20 PM

I wonder whether this is useful.

a highlighted passage or quote looks like this:
Bursts (Albert-Laszlo Barabasi)
- Highlight Loc. 466-68 | Added on Friday, October 08, 2010, 01:18 PM

we display a ceaseless desire to move most of the time. We are not kicked by tiny, invisible atoms but dragged by the imperceptible flickering of our neurons, which we translate into tasks, responsibilities, and motivations.

I just copy the contents into a ConnectedText topic for the book and transform "==========" into "----".

There is no reason why you could not use the book (any book) for notes that have nothing to do with the book you are reading at the moment, like reminders, todo items, or bright ideas.

This is why I don't quite understand the attraction of using the built-in experimental web browser for text editing, as some suggest. One can use Mytextfile for such purposes, but it seems to me much more convenient to use "My clippings.txt."

For those who are interested. Using the "keyboard" on the Kindle 3 is at least as easy, if not easier than, using the virtual keyboard on the iPod Touch. It isn't suited for heavy-duty writing, but it will do in a pinch.

1. Neither the PC version of Kindle nor the iPod Touch (software) versions allow you to do this. Just for the record, I have bought and read about ten books on the PC or iPod Touch. The experience on the real thing is preferable.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Writing Advice

These tips from the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences deserve to be heeded by undergraduates as well. Indeed, they are useful to anyone who needs or wants to write.

From the first installment: "Writing everyday contributes to continuity of your thinking and generating the ideas you need to write. Your mind will function differently when you write every day. We all think about our writing every day. But the cognitive processes involved in writing are different from those involved in thinking. Your project moves forward when you write…even if you write a gosh-awful first draft. (The topic of our third posting is the necessity of writing a crappy first draft.)"[1]

Highly recommended!

No further comment!

1. See also The Rule of 200.