Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The DropBox Manual

See The DropBox Manual. It makes for interesting reading.

In some ways, I have always preferred what is described as "Microsoft’s sync solution." It "doesn’t rely on a central server but instead lets computers sync directly with each other." I recently updated to Live Mesh. The only problem, it does not work with mobile devices such as the iPod Touch or Android. In fact, it does not even work with Microsoft XP (as Live Sync did).

So, I use both DropBox and Live Mesh.


Trails is a Firefox extension, designed for collecting, editing and organizing fragments of text and images to complement their main application for research. It's meant for quick and easy data collection. The data are stored in small booklets, of which one can create and maintain as many as one needs. It does not require the user to re-structure the research document manually by saving the collected fragments of text and images.[1]

The key point of Trails is, however, the ability of transforming combined website fragments (text and images) into printable booklets. If you don't need printed booklets, I would not recommend it. It is a bit cumbersome.

1. This is an edited version of the description of Trails, found at the Website referenced above.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Biographical Skepticism

Mark Twain: ""Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man - the biography of the man himself cannot be written."

No further comment!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Papyrus Author 3.5

I just bought another word processor for my German exploits: Papyrus Autor 3.5.[1] It's not to be confused with the word processor included in Papyrus Office 12.5. The first is most definitely German. It includes the famous "Duden Korrektor," a spell, grammar and style checker that is better than anything else I know. The second is (includes) a MS-Word compatible word processor that is also available in English. It is, apart from the German author's tools, the same. But I only bought it mainly for the tightly integrated grammar and style checker.

Papyrus Autor shares what is in my view a major flaw with the plain vanilla Papyrus word processor, and this is the lack of automatic conversion of footnotes to and from endnotes. In fact, endnotes, like other references, are stored in a proprietary database. For anyone doing academic work, this is a serious shortcoming, as many publishers insist on endnotes (while some want footnotes).

This is why Atlantis remains important to me. It easily allows you to transform the one to the other. My plan is to use Papyrus Author only for polishing the German and Atlantis only in the transformation of ConnectedText's markup to rtf and final copy. I am now about two-thirds done with the first draft of a 350 page German book in ConnectedText, and I have begun to transfer the chapters into rtf.[2]

1. "Das Schreibprogramm für Schriftsteller und alle, für die es auf ihren Text ankommt." It isn't cheap by any means. It's available for both Windows and the Mac

2. I am using the Beta version of ConnectedText 5 which, by the way, has a very capable German spelling checker and allows for different spell checkers for different projects.

Cascading Style Sheets in One Page

This site gives you most everything you need to know about CSS on one (albeit very large) page. I only need CSS to control topics and projects in ConnectedText.

Disclaimer: I hope this is not too esoteric.

No further comment!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Auster's Typewriter

We went to Coolidge Corner yesterday, where I bought a remaindered copy of Paul Auster's Collected Prose. Expanded Edition at the Brookline Booksmith. I already own quite a bit of that prose, but this edition contains "The Story of My Typewriter." Michael Leddy referred to it in the comments a few days ago, and I wanted to read it.

The story is about his Olympia Portable. It's "illustrated."

I believe that I or, perhaps better, my father owned an Olympia Portable during the sixties. Some traveling salesman had been able to sell it to him because he convinced him that typing "is an important business skill for business people." And this typewriter would allow his sons to acquire that skill and thus become successful in business. So I had to take an evening course, having to carry the damn thing about two miles once a week for a whole summer. I never learned touch typing on it, just because I did not see the point of it and resented having to learn a skill that was only fit "for girls." Nor did it help that all the others in the class were older girls—young women, really— whose interest in me, insofar as they had interests in me at all, were rather "motherly.' They felt sorry for me and gave good advice as to how I could overcome my clumsiness in dealing with the machine. If there had been any chance I would learn how to touch type before they showed their concern, it was completely eradicated afterward.

I finally taught myself touch typing on a computer during the late eighties. I never became successful in business, though.

Back to Auster: He got his Olympia in 1974 and has been using it ever since.

He also tells us that he never made the switch to a computer or word processor because he was told that he could lose all he had written in a session by pressing the wrong button. Too bad.

Soon enough, people felt sorry for Auster or rather berated him for not going with the time; and, in a reaction that reminded me of my former self and its allergy to touch typing, he "began to develop a certain affection" for his typewriter. "Until then, I hadn't felt particularly attached to my typewriter. It was simply a tool to do my work, but now that it had become an endangered species, one of the last surviving artifacts of twentieth-century homo scripturus, he came slowly to think of the typewriter as a him, rather than as an it.

My former self would have asked: "Why 'him' and not 'her'? The Olympia is after all a German product and the typewriter is known as "Die Schreibmaschine." My present self just does not understand. It has no desire to personalize any machine or tool. I would not even think of my Zettelkasten as a partner in communication, but at most as secondary or working memory.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Evernote in your Brain?

Just read this about Evernote: The company has ambitious plans to be your secondary brain. Literally. As Libin told me, "You will just have a chip in your head, or something. You'll just think about it and there's your external brain; and you'll get things that way."

You'll get what? I would not want anyone to have access to my brain.

Talk about headaches ... Let's keep it "external."

RedNotebook 1.1.1

I have blogged about RedNotebook before. There is a new release which "fixes many small issues and adds some minor features. Annotation editing has been improved and simplified. You can now delete annotations with the "DELETE" key. The size of the Windows installer has been reduced and the Windows version now uses a fresh theme and new icons. Additionally RedNotebook has been translated to British English and Norwegian Bokmal."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paul Auster on Pencils and Notebooks

There is an interview with Paul Auster here. Among other things, he talks about his writing implements: "I do have a few unusual writing habits—I'm a dinosaur now. I write everything by hand and type it up on an old manual typewriter, an Olympia 1961 ... I've never been able to compose on a keyboard. I need a pen or a pencil in my hand, feel that it's a very physical activity. When I write, words are literally coming out of my body.

And: "I'm very particular about my notebooks, and 95 percent of the time they are the same kind of notebook: They're made in France and are very tall—Clairefontaine brand, 24 x 32 centimeters. They're filled with pages of graph paper, which I like, as my handwriting is rather small."

You knew this, at least since Oracle Night, didn't you?

And: "I tend to buy notebooks whenever I travel. I have Norwegian notebooks, Japanese notebooks, Australian notebooks. I write with a fountain pen, and over the years I've experimented with many different kinds of fountain pens, but for the past decade or so I've been using an Italian brand called Aurora. I do write with pencils, too, and those are always Pentel mechanical pencils with 0.5 leads. I told you I have small handwriting!"

These quotations do not make for the most important parts of this interview, of course. But I must say that I am a bit surprised by the fact that he has not taken at all to the computer. In fact, for some reason, he was the last writer from whom I would have expected this. It's just more (anecdotal) evidence for my theory that in writing there is much less of a relationship between the tools you use in writing and the output you create than some people would like to believe.

Most people who also like paper notebooks and mechanical pencils—like me—produce mainly crap. (Nor is this changed, if they change to software program(s) to store their notes and compose their prose.)

Perhaps I should note here as a counterpoint that I would have been really disappointed, if Auster had used a program like Scrivener. Just doesn't seem right ...

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Making a List is a review of To-Do List by Sasha Cagen (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2007). But it also offers reflections that are worthy of being pursued further.

This does not mean I agree with the reviewer. To say that "List-writing ... embodies a paradigm shift" because (?) the "reincarnation of the list bears a striking semblance to a simplified weblog" seems to me a bit much. Lists are the oldest and most basic form of making sense of disparate information. They remain, even in their electronic form, very limited tools.[1] But this does not mean they are unimportant or not worth thinking about further.

1. See also Umberto Eco on Lists and Sontag on Lists and Collections. .

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book Stand

Take a look at this.

I am in the market for a new one. The old one I had bought from Levenger, which was annoying because it collapsed almost every time you turned a page, fell to the floor again and broke.

It's also available at Amazon.

Friday, November 5, 2010

txt2tags 2.6

There is a new version of txt2tags.

The most important new feature as far as I am concerned is the conversion to Wiki Creole, which is very, very close to ConnectedText.[1]

1. See also this post.

Nesting versus Networking

Outliners represent a particular version of nesting, where "nesting" means that we place one thing "under" or "in" something else. You can also say that it nests lists under other lists. There is a hierarchical relationship. Usually one nests the simple in the complex or the particular under the general (though one may also take the reverse approach. In any case, a "parent" can have "child," and a child can have a grandchild, but the grandchild cannot in turn become the parent. There is always a "root" and you can think of this classification scheme as a "tree."

Brainstorm is a simple nesting or list editor, for instance. It allows you to look at a particular list without worrying about the list that comes before and after. But every list has a definite place in a hierarchy of lists. Brainstorm has "namesakes." Namesakes are any entries in a BrainStorm model with identical text. They are created automatically but you can disconnect them if you want to. They enable you to see when you've already entered or pasted something. This allows you to have the same information at different levels of the lists, but it is a rather limited way of circumventing the hierarchical structure.

A true outliner is even more hierarchical. It is a system of nested groups. Hierarchies are good because they group related things. A collapsible outliner is useful because it allows you to hide as much or as little of the gory details as you want But, and this is important, traversing from one point in the hierarchy to another must always move through a common node or root, and this route can be very long in a complicated outline.

A wiki represents a network. In a network there need not be a root (though you can, if you want) create a hierarchical network as well. Any point or node of the network can be connected to any other. A parent can thus be also the and at the same time the child. There is no direction, unless you restrict yourself and impose one. In any case, what makes the wiki interesting is that it is not a tree (and not an outline).

So you could say that a wiki (or network) can take a hierarchical structure, but you cannot say that a hierarchical structure can be, insofar as it is a hierarchical structure, is a wiki or a network. That is why outliners are usually opposed to networks. And that is why I think it is nonsense to speak of Word's Outliner as a "nested wiki."

See also Hierarchies and Nets and Outlines and Hypertext.

To say it again, I have nothing against hierarchical outliners and I think it is wrong to think that it forces us into "hierarchical thinking," but I see no advantage to confuse two things that should be kept separate.[1] I should also say that I do not want to claim that the fact that I do not like MS-Word's outliner has any strong normative force. so, if you like Word's, and if you do not need a wiki that's fine with me. Just don't call it a wiki because it fulfills the same function for you, for which others use a wiki.

1. I like outliners. I also know that some of the better outliners try to incorporate network-like capabilities. It's just that MS-Word's outliner does not do this in any way whatsoever. That MS-Word also allows you to include links to other files and thus to mimic rudimentary wiki-like capabilities in this way is true, but it is also a rather different matter from collapsible outlines.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Nested Personal Wiki?

From the department of nonsense: Use Word's Outline View as a Nested Personal Wiki. "Rather than keep multiple files, to-do lists, and longer notes on something coming up, consider using a Word file in the "Outline View" to create a nested, expandable personal wiki-style organizer."

I get that it is one file. I also get that this one file is an outline (which has collapsible and expandable levels, as all outliners do). I also get the personal and expandable part.

I don't get what would make this a "wiki -style organizer." This characteisation of a simple word outline amounts to willful obfuscation. It has absolutely nothing to do with a wiki. This in itself does not make it a bad idea. Just as a car might not be a bad idea, calling it a "boat" certainly is.

I like outliners and I like wikis. I am very interested in how they can (or cannot) be combined. This entry says absolutely nothing about this issue—or anything that would be intrinsically interesting to anyone. Doesn't everyone already know that the MS-Word Outline, like any outliner, can be used for to-do lists, and longer notes? and why use MS-Word's clunky outlining feature at that?