Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Marshall McLuhan's "Reading Style"

I just came across this. If this is true, it explains a lot. It's easy to "read" five books a day, if you start on p. 69 and then just read the right-hand pages. You might find some "interesting quotes," but you are not making a serious attempt at understanding the material, even if you use index cards.

Actually, come to think of it, I should have read his books in precisely this way.[1]

1. See also Really?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Seneca on the Past

For Seneca, time is divided into three parts:
  • The present which is transitory,
  • The future which is uncertain and
  • The past which is unalterable.
So much is commonplace. What is not commonplace is how Seneca evaluates the different divisions. "The present is fleeting, to the degree that to some it seems non-existent. It is always in motion, it flows on headlong; it ceases to be before it has come, and will no more brook delay than the firmament or the stars, whose incessant drive never allows them to remain stationary. It is only with the present that busy men are concerned, and the present is so transitory that it cannot be grasped; but because their attention is distracted in many directions they are deprived of even this little." The future is uncertain. To worry about it is less useful than most people think. It is the past that is most important for him because
this is the part over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be subjected to any man's control. But this part men preoccupied lose, for they have no leisure to look back on the past, and if they had there would be no pleasure in recollecting a regrettable episode. They are unwilling to call to mind time badly spent, therefore, and have no stomach for traversing again passages whose faults are obvious in retrospect though they were disguised at the time by the pander pleasure. No one willingly turns his mind back to the past unless his acts have all passed the censorship of his own conscience, which is never deceived; a man who has coveted much in his ambition, behaved arrogantly in his pride, used his victory without restraint, overreached by treachery, plundered out of avarice, squandered out of prodigality, must inevitably be afraid of his own memory. And yet that is the part of our time which is hallowed and sacrosanct, above the reach of human vicissitudes and beyond the sway of Fortune, impregnable to the vexations of want and fear and the assaults of disease; it is the part which is not subject to turmoil or looting; its possession is everlasting and free from anxiety. The days of our present come one by one, and each day minute by minute; but all the days of the past will appear at your bidding and allow you to examine them and linger over them at your will. Busy men have no time for this. Excursions into all the parts of its past are the privilege of a serene and untroubled mind; but the minds of the preoccupied cannot turn or look back, as if constricted by a yoke. And so their life vanishes into an abyss. However much water your pour on will do no good if there is no vessel ready to receive and hold it; and similarly it makes no difference how much time is given you if there is no place for it to settle and it passes through the cracks and holes of the mind.[1]
This is about as much opposed as it gets to what GTD and other "time management" systems tell us today. The all focus on the present with a view to the future. They all focus on the uncertain and transitory. History gives depth to our lives. It is what we should try manage at least as much as the present and future.

Mind you, Seneca's concentration on the past has consequences for the way you live your live in the present. It tells us to live in such a way that we will be remember it with an untroubled mind. Taking note is a necessary condition of the possibility of such memories and the prevention of time passing through "the cracks and holes of the mind." And don't just think of the "weekly" or "monthly review" here either.

I am usually not given to preaching and I hope this is not too preachy.[2]

1. Seneca is, of course, aware of the fact that while the past may be unalterable, our usual interpretation of it is anything but. Some people have made a virtue out of this shortcoming. And this is what he is resisting. The text is from "On the Shortness of Life" (sect. 10).

2. See also Seneca on Gathering Ideas, written four years ago.

Friday, December 23, 2011

On Eco, One More Time

This review of Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery is hard-hitting, but it is not unfair. Just one sentence that strike a chord with me: "Not only is the book stuffed with undigested historical, theological, and philosophical material that impedes any suspense, its protagonist is uninflectedly despicable. Moreover, this character is not just central to the plot, he is the voice of the novel; there is no voice, no character of any sort, to challenge him." The word "undigested" seems best to characterize most of his recent stuff, or better: "bits and pieces". "Ein ausgeschütteter Zettelkasten", as Karl Kraus would have said.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reductionism of the Ridiculous Kind

Perhaps all of reductionism is ridiculous, but this one, noted by Edward Vielmetti, is more ridiculous than most. "Lola tosses her red phone up in the air and instantly goes through her mental Rolodex of possibilities. Faces flash on the screen. She decides to hit up her banker father and darts out of the house."

Our minds are certainly more complex than any Rolodex ever was, but then again this analogy might be intended to apply just to Lola's mind and may thus ultimately be a put-down with sexist overtones.

ConnectedText and Ulysses

ConnectedText and Ulysses As I have reported before, I have switched from the PC platform to the Mac. I run Parallels on the Mac in order to be able to use an old version of Quicken and ConnectedText. My present "workflow" is something like this.
  • I use nvAlt as an inbox. Every note that does not go directly into ConnectedText, goes here first. I like it because I can use wiki markup "//...//" for Italics "**…**" for bold, etc. It even uses "[[…]]" for links. So I can use my familiar markup and eventually paste it with the proper markup into ConnectedText.
  • I keep all my notes and do most of my work in ConnectedText, as I did before.
  • When it comes time to write the final draft, I use Ulysses. I have set it up so that it uses the same markup as ConnectedText (including "=" etc. for headings). This was very easy to do, since Ulysses uses plain text and I can just paste the raw text from ConnectedText into it. Even the inline footnotes translate well. ConnectedText uses "[! … !]", Ulysses uses "{{-…}}". The markup can easily be replace by Search and Replace. Why switch to Ulysses and not stay in ConnectedText? It's because Ulysses has much sronger export capabilities to PDF, RTF and ePub.
  • I use Mellel for final polishing. Its files can be exported to PDF, Word and OPML, if need be.
So far, everything seems to be going smoothly. It also seems to prove the advantages of using plain text over proprietary formats. I hardly notice that the central application I use is in windows, while almost everything else is in Mac OS X.

I am still looking to better fit in Scribe, but that has to wait until it can save and import OPML.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joyce's Notesheets

Sarah Davison reports in "Joyce’s Incorporation of Literary Sources in ‘Oxen of the Sun,'" (Genetic Joyce Studies 9 (2009) [ Sarah Davison:

In 1938 a number of sheets of notes were sent by Paul Léon, then acting as Joyce’s secretary, to Harriet Shaw Weaver, and ultimately deposited in the British Museum. These sheets were transcribed by Phillip Herring in James Joyce’s Notesheets in the British Museum (1972). They comprise nearly 3000 notes, of which approximately 2000 entries contain examples of period diction, and the remainder relate to embryology, the history of the English language or detail from previous episodes. Joyce then used the information he amassed to write ‘Oxen’, striking through entries on the notesheets as he incorporated them in successive drafts.

 The "notesheets" do not seem to be notecards, but of "double (that is folded) sheets." The notesheets for the "Oxen of the Sun" are sheets of paper that contain about 2000 entries that Davison describes as "localized chaos."[1] He is also said to have used little scraps of paper from writing blocks made for the waistcoat pockets on which he noted things he heard or overheard. These materials were then transferred to the larger notesheets. Material used from the notesheets were struck out (using colored pencils, usually in red, blue and green.

 Joyce also kept some sixty Notebooks (as in the case of Finnegan's Wake, for instance). He appears to have used some of them over a long period of time. Some of them are alphabetical, containing quotes, remarkable sentences, descriptions of people, places and episodes.

 His "workflow" has been described as consisting of eight steps: 1. raw notes, 2. notesheets, 3. raw drafts, 4. final drafts, 5. typescripts, 6. copy-edited typescripts, 7. page proofs and 8. final proofs.

 1. See also Thomas E. Connolly, The Personal Library of James Joyce (Buffalo: Norwood Editions, 1978), a book I have to get.

Ulysses, Scrivener and ConnectedText

In a very thoughtful blog entry, called Scrivener or Devonthink Pro, with a side of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Jake Seliger explains why he finds Scrivener less useful than James Fallows seems to do. Starting from an article discussing James Joyce's use of index cards in giving a shape to his "Ulysses" that is independent of any linear plot line and resembles more the unity of a mosaic, he explains
if Ulysses can be said to have a plot, its plot is formless and does not give form to the book – it is not shaped to produce a series of dramatic sensations for purposes aesthetic or otherwise; it has no conclusion in event, only a termination in time [. . .]” If a plot “does not give form to the book,” then something must; for some writers, Scrivener might organize it and help find a way to present formlessness. The program helps one create a mosaic, but I’m not trying to create a mosaic in my work, at least right now: I’m trying to create a linear plot. So I don’t think the program will help me as much as it could.

This resonates with me, even though I am not so sure that Scrivener is essentially designed to "help find a way to present formlessness." It has an outliner, after all, and it might better be characterized as providing a way out of formlessness to a linear plot or argument.

However, in doing so, it clearly pays more attention to the journey from the formless stuff than it does to the end result, i.e. the "linear plot." In fact, it does not even prescribe a linear plot or a sequential argument at all. This does not mean that it prevents one from reaching such an end or that one must "present formlessness" or that one is destined to place fragments in what appear to be "their proper positions through a process of rough drafts and revisions."[1]

The makers of Ulysses, the model of Scrivener, point out correctly — it appears to me that no longer "text is written at once, in a single document. A story consisting of 200 pages results from fractions, starting points, discarded ideas and many more – all neatly distributed along a total of 800 pages, most likely with over 100 different documents, combined with notes, Post-Its, scribblings on the margins of numerous daily papers, beer covers, napkins and the back sides of photos." Ulysses, just as Scrivener, is designed to free the writer from the need to deliver and develop his text in predefined structures." Instead, it gives the writer the "ability to form his own preferred structures – both within the text and in organising things."[2]

Still, by blurring the distinction between research, "pre-writing," preliminary drafts, rough drafts and final product — or, perhaps better, by allowing one to do all these things in one and the same application, it tempts the user to spend more time on the preliminaries than the production of the final product. It "distracts," which, in the day of "distraction-free" software might appear to be a bad thing. People end up spending more and more time on particular small passages rather than "the whole thing." To be sure this is only a distraction — and it might not be an issue for everyone — but it would be a mistake to deny that this temptation exists.

Seliger uses DevonThink to structure his research, just as I use ConnectedText. This puts a wall between the two activities. And I am beginning to think that such a wall is a good thing, even though I think it needs to be "porous." For the last book, I used to different projects in ConnectedText: one for research, the other for writing. In the end, I exported the writing project to rtf files. This worked, but I wish I had not spent as much time with "word processing." Perhaps Ulysses will work better as an intermediate stage between ConnectedText and the Word Processor. But I don't not know yet.

1. He quotes from a paper by Walton Litz: "It was the function of the note-sheets to assure that patterns and relationships already visualized by Joyce reached their fore-ordained positions in the text. Like the mosaic worker, he was continuously sorting and re-grouping his raw materials, assigned each fragment to its proper place in the general design. The mechanical nature of this process emphasizes the mechanical nature of those ordering principles which give Ulysses its superficial unity." The note-sheets seem to him as "note cards."

2. See Welcome to Ulysses. In the spirit of open disclosure I should perhaps add that I bought Ulysses yesterday (at the price of $9.99 in Mac Applications store and wasted spent yesterday working with it on a long overdue contribution to a collection of essays. This largely contributed to the need to make explicit these musings. See also my earlier, not so complimentary post on the creators of Ulysses.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Arno Schmidt's Zettel

This Web site publishes a Zettel (slip, index card) a day from Arno Schmidt's card index — in German.[1] Arno Schmidt was one of the most significant and most interesting German novelists of post-war Germany. This Website in English presents more information about Arno Schmidt.

Dave Winer, who may be said to have started the electronic outliner category with VisiText, is said to be the grandnephew of Arno Schmidt.[2] This is interesting because Schmidt's motto: "I don't know anyone who is right as often as I am" could also be Winer's.

Here a copy of one of his Zettelkästen or manuscripts consisting of ordered slips:

Doesn't look much like an outline — or does it?

1. I have never written an entire entry on Arno Schmidt, but see this entry.

2. See this Wikipedia entry.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Scribe is an easy outliner for the Mac.

It costs 12.99.

December 5, 2011: The application works very well. You just need tab and delete to move headings around. You can paste the outline into TextEdit and the formatting stays intact. However, saving it as RTF file and opening it in MS-Word leads to rather unpredictable results.  Importing or pasting it into Mellel works better, though. Hitting tab at the beginning of each item, makes them line up correctly, so the outline structure remains intact.

It would be good, if it could save to OPML or other formats.

Flat Outlines versus Hierarchical Outlines

Most outlining programs afford the ability to write very intricately ordered deep structures. The temptation is to develop such a hierarchy at the very beginning of one's writing project, but this can be counter-productive. A flat outline, that is, an outline that goes no deeper than one or two levels is more than sufficient at the beginning of most projects.

The first outline should be a rough indication of all the things you need to cover and give you a route that you can follow. The details will follow later — as you are writing. A more hierarchical structure will thus emerge as you are working out the details. For that reason, a hierarchical outline makes sens only later, when you are completing the project, that is, the essay or the book. It is a means of tweaking what you want to say, not a means of planning. Both kinds of outlines have their place. Most people (in my experience) mistake the order, however.

Charles Dickens' Plan Sheets

Last week, I read Jane Smiley's Charles Dickens, A Life (Penguin, 2001). I found it very interesting. One thing that caught my attention was her claim that Dickens kept lists of names for his novels and characters. Names were obviously very important for Dickens. They are highly evocative and have often "symbolic" significance. As I am interested in lists and note-taking, I began to wonder about what note-taking methods Dickens used and how he integrated it in his writing.

There are a number of publications that deal with this. The ones I looked at were Harry Stone (ed.), Dickens' Working Notes for His Novels (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) and John Butt and Kathleen Tillottson, Dickens at Work (London: Methuen & Co., 1957). This is what I gathered from a cursory perusal of these works.

Dickens wrote his novels usually in installments for journals over a certain number of months. When he began publishing the book, he could therefore not have a clear idea of the end or, for that matter, of the middle of the work. On the other hand, he needed to have some idea about what was to follow and plan for it. To this end, he made "working notes" that  deal with the structure of the work as a whole, explore and plan characters, their relations, the themes he wants to explore, and, in particular, the symbolic "pictures" that characterize his works.

The working notes took the form of "plan sheets" for each installment. In these he worked forward and backward in planning the whole novel. He followed the following procedure:
taking a sheet of approximately 7" x 9" of (pale blue) paper, he folded it at the long side horizontally in half,  which he then opened, using the left half to make notes about ideas for future developments: things having to do with planning and decision making, writing queries to himself about which options to take, what character to kill when, tags and motifs, about names, alternate possibilities in story development, etc. Often, he answered such queries later a laconic "Yes," "No," "Not yet," "Consider for next number," etc.

On the right side dealt with the substance of the chapters. Thus he uaully wrote on the top right of the sheet the name of the novel and the installment number; below the title he wrote the name of each planned chapter. In the space under each chapter he listed the most important events. The "plan sheets" varied very much, as one might expect. Some plans are very full, some remained rather empty.

Sometimes he supplemented these planning notes with supplemental notes about chronology, calculations of the ages of characters, ratio of manuscript pages to printed pages, considerations of what he had done and needed to do; plans for the end of the novel.

These Plans were succinct outlines of reminders and motifs, resumes. They are "compact and cryptic," as they were only intended for him. Apparently, he kept the notes together with his manuscripts. One might therefore say that Dickens was of necessity an outliner.

However, his outlines were not hierarchical so much, as they were flat. They were plans about what to do first, second, third, etc. that left open the possibility of changing some of the order of the scenes and picture, but on the whole fixed the order of the action. There are some people who like to claim that one needs a special program, like Scrivener, for "non-linear writing." Dickens' approach show that nothing could be farther from the truth — or so it seems to me.

In some ways, his working method may be said to resemble the a simple outlining program, like for instance, Notetab's outlining feature. It is not very elaborate but very functional. It also resembles the kind of approach that is evident in Scrivener, but any modern writing application would do. Even Notational Velocity (on the Mac) or ConnectedText (on Windows) would do with proper tagging and linking. In fact, I prefer the latter for both planning and writing — not to sound like a broken record.[1]

1. See also Hölderlin and Version Control.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Microsoft Office Starter 2010

 A free version of MS Word and Excel? You can download it here. It does not have all the bells and whistles of the full version, but that may be a good thing.

It also serves advertising; and that is perhaps an entirely different matter.

Windows only ...

Calepin, a Blog Tool for DropBox

Just came across this. It looks promising. I wonder whether it can do a private blog, i.e. A blog that only the blogger herself/himself can read.

No further comment!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

DOS Applications and OS X

Boxer is an application that is designed to play DOS Games on OS X. It also works well with old Dos Applications. In fact, it works better than DOS Box on the PC, even though it's just a "wrapper" for DOS Box. Agenda:

Agenda and Grandview:
It's a much better way to run old DOS programs than using a virtual machine because it has much leads overhead. Back to work!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Glass Bead Game

To be filed under the heading of "rather weird but intriguing:" Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi or Das Glasperlenspiel is a strange novel about an intellectual or cultural game that is never made quite explicit in the book itself. It had a weird hold on me when I was eighteen or nineteen (and I hope it had nothing to do with the implicit decision I made about that time to pursue "philosophy").

The idea is vague to enough lend itself to all kinds of interpretations and adaptations. Lewis H. Lapham wrote in 1997 for Harper Magazine an essay called "The Spanish Armadillo" in which he exulted its virtues in an age of cultural forgetfulness and illiteracy, claiming it "lends itself so obviously to the transcendental aspirations of the Internet" that it probably would only be "a matter of months before Microsoft" would buy the rights to the name for one of its software titles. Microsoft didn't, of course. Neither did Apple. Their HyperCard Program was perhaps closer to this idea than anything  Microsoft had developed at that or any time.[1]

Lapham also referred to Charles Cameron, a game developer, interested in developing the game for the computer. I am not sure whether anything came of this, but the Website is still there: What Lapham said, Explaining the Glass Bead Game and Approaches. It's all interesting in a weird way. The reference to Michael Heim's The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality does not help. In fact, it spoils it for me.

1. Hesse: "This same eternal idea, which for us has been embodied in the Glass Bead Game, has underlain every movement of Mind toward the ideal goal of a universitatis litterarum, every Platonic academy, every league of an intellectual elite, every rapprochement between the exact and the more liberal disciplines, every effort toward reconciliation between science and art or science and religion." If Lapham and Cameron are right, it also underlies some Hypertext. Now, a transcendental wiki ... that's an idea.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Digital Curators?

The Content Strategist as a Digital Curator is an interesting paper on the idea the "just as curators produce thoughtful exhibitions that juxtapose pieces of work against one another to create meaning and spur excitement, content strategists must approach a business’s content as a medium that needs to be strategically selected and placed to engage the audience, convey a message, and inspire action." It's supposed to hold for anyone who creates "content."

I don't know what I think of this. Every creator her own curator?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


AutoNotes seems to be a little-known personal wiki for OS X. It is part of the Automate suite (which I tried but found on the whole rather buggy). But AutoNotes works as a notepad for quick thoughts and notes. You just have to press F1 for creating a new note. It links automatically to existing notes.

Creation of new notes could be easier. I would prefer if it allowed enclosing words or phrases in double brackets, like nvAlt and, more importantly, ConnectedText. I like it better than nvAlt for quick notes because it is more simple (and I have no use for MultiMarkdown or extensive search abilities). It's just for quick notes and reminders that will either be deleted or imported into ConnectedText.

It saves notes as text or rtf files to any folder. I am not sure whether I need this capability. For the moment I have AutoNotes save the notes to DropBox so that they are available on any of my computers.

What is Wrong with American Universities?

I don't usually comment on politics or daily affairs, but I cannot resist today. One CNN headline reads: "Penn State students take to streets after Paterno, president lose jobs." This headline beautifully illustrates the order of priorities in higher education. Paterno, just a football coach, seems to be more important than the president of the university.

It almost appears as though football is the most important "business" of the university. It isn't. Not by a long shot. It would be a very good thing, if large universities in America were to remember what their primary role is: education and research. Football is just a diversion — something that should be secondary.

Nor have I ever thought that the competitive sports are good for the moral well-being of universities. Penn State has stayed clear of scandals involving grades and money, but it is painfully obvious that the culture of competitive sports allowed a pedophile to prosper as long as it did not interfere with business as usual, i.e. winning football games. This is what is wrong — and not just at Penn State. 

Back to note-taking ...

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Lab Notebooks

I don't have much use for a laboratory notebook  but I have a passing interesting in the practice. This post seems to me right on.

No further comment!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Applescript, TextExpander and AutoHotKey

It is possible to access the Parallels Desktop with AppleScript, using a script like this:

activate application "Parallels Desktop"
    tell application "System Events"
    keystroke ";" using {command down}
end tell

If AutoHotKey is running in the Parallels Desktop and "#;" is a shortcut Autohotkey recognizes, it will act just as if the shortcut were invoked from within Windows itself. The applescript snippet can be run from TextExpander, an application that reproduces some of AutoHotKeys functionality (AppleScript supplies most of the rest).

This setup opens up all kinds of possibilities for interaction between the two operating systems. So far, I have just set up  this TextExpander/AppleScript Combo to start ConnectedText, Quicken and SyncBack, Once they are running I can control them with AutoHotkey in Windows.

ConnectedText, AutoHotKey, SyncBack, Windows Live Mesh and Quicken are the only windows applications I am still using. I hope to replace Quicken for my budgeting and keeping track of financial matters with a native Mac OX application. The other four I will keep. AutoHotKey for automating ConnectedText, SyncBack mainly for backing up my ConnectedText files to a folder that synchronizes all my computers (by means of Windows Live Mesh).

P.S.: I solved the problem with AHK always opening up in notepad whenever I left and returned to the Parallel Desktop. The culprit was a snippet that allowed me to edit the file in use easily.

P.P.S.: I saw on the Internet another solution to opening windows programs from the Mac with an AppleScript and short cut keys for windows applications, but it did not work for me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Matthew Arnold: "This creative power works with elements, with materials; what if it has not those materials, those elements, ready for its views? In that case it must surely wait till they are ready." These elements are ideas. (From "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" in the Essays in Criticism of 1865.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scrivener and MultiMarkdown

Here is an interesting post on Scrivener and MultiMarkdown, pointing out that the relationship is for the most part a one-way street.[1]

No further comment!

1. But see also this —an earlier post by the same person.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Markdownpad is a markdown editor for Windows. Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool. It allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML). In other words, its just like Txt2Tags or many of the Wiki dialects.

It's an interesting idea, reminding me of Multimarkdown composer and Marked on the Mac, but it is free.[1] Marked is just $3.99 and provides live preview of Markdown or MultiMarkdown in any text editor (including in MultiMarkdown Composer).[2] NvAlt provides MultiMarkdown preview for free. Markdown does not do footnotes. MultiMarkdown does—sort of. And Scrivener does MultiMarkdown well.[3]

1. There are many other Markdown editors, like GonzoMarkdown-Editor, Mou and Wysiwyg Markdown Editor. TextMate can convert Markdown to HTML as well.
2. MultiMarkdown Composer exports directly to HTML, LaTeX, Flat Open Document (.fodt), OPML and RTF.
3. See also ByWord which has a preview mode.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wineskin Winery

I tried to run ConnectedText with Wineskin Winery. It worked, but I found it rather unsatisfactory. The application looked rather ugly because it substituted strange fonts for menus, toolbars, etc. I also could not make it to recognize different styles. Even though it worked and even though I think the font issue could perhaps be solved (with a lot of tinkering), I deleted it again. Wineskin Winery cannot deny its heritage, it seems to me: Linux (or Unix).

I find Parallels superior. Python also works in it the way it is supposed to.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

AutoHotkey on Parallels

I am so used to Autohotkey that it would be difficult to do without it. I tried Text Expander which is also very capable, but it is very expensive. I would really like to know why Parallels insists on opening the script in Notepad every time you switch between its Desktop and the OS X Desktop. It turns out that compiling my script solved the problem. This makes changing it a little harder, but it is a lot easier than the alternative.

ConnectedText on the iPad

After having problems on my office computer with Windows and wasting another six hour of my life with a PCR error that would not let me print, a printer driver that I could not uninstall because there was a document in the print queue, etc., etc., I have decided to give the Mac another try. I could make the problem disappear, but what bothers me is that I have no idea what I did to make it go away. I now bought a Mac Mini and Parallels. Installed Windows 64 (32 bit) on the Mac, and spent most of the weekend making it work. It took a while, but I now have the most important programs running on the Mac and on the virtual Windows in Parallels. Printing of Windows applications is handled by OS X, by the way.

It's not without problems. Autohotkey does not play nice with Parallels or Parallels does not play nice with Autohotkey. Don't know what causes it, but the script file starts in Notepad whenever I switch from OS X to a windows application.

One good thing--actually the only thing I really require of Windows at this point--is that Parallels runs ConnectedText without a hitch. But what really blows me away is that "Parallels Mobile," a companion application, can connect to a running copy of ConnectedText (or any other Windows application) on the desktop so that you can actually work in ConnectedText on the iPad. The virtual keyboard obscures much of the screen (when it's open), but it works, and the topics are immediately updated as they are written. This is great!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Can't I Block is obnoxious. It arbitrarily combines words so it insinuate itself into Google searches. Search for "personal wiki" and you get a page for "myob plus wiki" from this "service," for instance. Should you click on the page you get all kinds of things for "wiki" and a program called "MYOB Accounting Plus." Every day there are more inane and annoying combinations like that. I try not to fall for this ploy, but I do at least once a day.

I blocked the site in Google's search settings, but it seems to make little difference. It's nothing but "Search Spam" and it should be penalized by Google, not receive a high score in searches.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Own Version Control

Don't know whether I ever mentioned this: ConnectedText includes automatic version control for every topic. I find it very useful.

Atlantis also includes version control of sorts. It allows you to back up a file automatically at certain intervals. It's better than the Microsoft way.

Sometimes this is not enough. I then use Backup Revision File. It's an AhK application that allows you to specify files it monitors and then prompts "the user for a 'file save' and then asks you for some text input (which you can ignore). These solutions are more than enough for me. Don't need Git or any of the other fancy server-based solutions.

I tried Autover for a while, but ultimately I liked Backup Revison File better.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hölderlin and Version Control

The German poet Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) wrote his first drafts usually on the right half of the right page of a folio sized notebook (Heft). He left the back of this page empty, so he could use the left part of the page and the back side of the previous page for revisions and reformulations. He thus always had three times the space for later work than he used for the first draft.

Sometimes he wrote a rough sketch on the lower part of next page that was separated by a continuous line from the rest of the manuscript. As this sketch was worked out, he transferred its contents to the upper part of the page.

This approach was not unusual for the eighteenth century and various versions of it survived into the twentieth century. Thus, I was taught (late fifties, early sixties) to divide every page in a notebook in half by folding it (and then flatten it again). The first draft was to be written on one the right half of the page. The other half was to be used for revisions. What makes Hölderlin's approach remarkable is that he planned for three times the revisions (and apparently used up the space as well). Among other things, this shows that his poetry was not the result of sudden inspiration, but of gradual reworking of the first draft. The editors of the Frankfurt Edition of Hölderlin's work like to speak of "ideal growth."

Whether "ideal" or not, this kind of growth is difficult to see in an electronic text, unless, of course, the author used version control. This may not be a bad thing entirely.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interpreting Imaginary Slips of Paper

H. A. Wolfson made the following claim about Spinoza's work: "if we could cut up all the philosophic literature available to him into slips of paper, toss them up into the air, and let them fall back to the ground, then out of these scattered slips of paper we could reconstruct his Ethics." He did proceed to reconstruct Spinoza's Ethics in this way, but found in the process it was more like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces, with pieces that do not fit together and had to be "reshaped," and with "many necessary pieces ... missing" and having to supplied by "ourselves." But he claims to have a guide or outline of the picture in the form of the Ethics "as it was originally formed in the mind of Spinoza."[1]

It appears to me that this is a good description of how not to interpret an author—at the very least how not to interpret an author of Spinoza's stature. The first problem is that Wolfson (or anyone else, for that matter) has no access to the picture of the book "as it was originally formed in the mind" of any author. Secondly, the idea that you could reconstruct a work like Spinoza's from the source he used or consulted, diminishes it considerably from the outset. Missing and reshaped "imaginary pieces" make the interpretation even more arbitrary.

I am all for the "reduction in order to build complexity" (Luhmann) and I do use imaginary slips of papers (ConnectedText topics) in my research, but this stuff is just that: "stuff." The arguments and story lines based on some of this stuff do not result from the mere addition, subtraction and shaping of preconfigured pieces.

This observation is infinitely more appropriate in Spinoza's case. Wolfson's approach has a definite tendency to reduce him to the lowest common denominator, that is, I am tempted to say, Wolfson's own imagination.[2]

[1] H. A. Wolfson, "Behind the Geometrical Method," Spinoza: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Marjorie Grene. Garden City/New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1973), p. 3.

2. Wolfson has a further means to reduce Spinoza to his imagination. He asserts: "Statements are not significant for what they actually affirm but for the denials which they imply" (p. 17). The complement of a term (or, perhaps better, of "what a statement affirms") is infinite. So there is much to choose from!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Important Problems

Richard Feynman seems to have given younger scientists the advice that they should keep a list of a dozen or so of their favorite problems. They should have this list constantly present in their mind. In this way they could relate everything they read or heard to one of the problems on the list and then determine whether the new information could help them in solving the problem.

The claim was: "If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work."

I am not a scientist and my problems are not as clearly defined as those of physicists, but I have some definite areas of interest on which I take notes. Every time I notice something that belongs to one of those areas, I take note, enter it into my hyper-textual database and connect it with the stuff that is already in my ConnectedText Projects.

The Art of Choosing Difficulties

Yesterday, I bought Winifred Galllagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. (New York: Penguin Books, Galagher, 2009) to read on the "T." It's an interesting and easy read. In reading it, I came across a reference to Nicholas Hobbs, whom I had never heard about before. Here a quote from Hobbs (not in the book):
... the healthy person, the healthy in body and spirit, is a person faced with many difficulties. He has a lot of problems, many of which he has deliberately chosen with the sure knowledge that in working toward their solution, he will become more the person he would like to be.

Part of the art of choosing difficulties is to select those that are indeed just manageable. If the difficulties chosen are too easy life is boring; if they're too hard, life is self defeating.

The trick is to move oneself in the direction of what he would like to become at a level of difficulty close to the edge of his competence. When one achieves this fine tuning of his life, he will know zest and joy and deep fulfillment.

This seems right to me—not just for life in general, but also for research and thus note-taking.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ConnectedText 5 Released

Today, ConnectedText version 5 was released. I blogged earlier about what I especially like in the new version. There were two things that I did not mention because they were not part of ConnectedText then. The first is automatic category assignments (or automatic tagging), the second is the addition of sorting in attribute and property summary. This was a direct response to this post.

You can now add a "+" or "-" sign to a column in summary search and force an ascending or descending sort of the information on the basis of that column.


will result in this:

Click to enlarge!

See the little down arrow after "when" It can easily be changed to up or a different column can be used for sorting, like so:


Miles said... about the previous post: "Very good. It's a shame - especially for a Schedule Topic like this - that CT doesn't let you choose a Sort order."

I asked whether it could not be added. Eduardo fulfilled the wish. Now that's what I call a quick response. I have never seen a developer more responsive to his customers.

P.S.: Perhaps I should add that I changed the summary table in the CSS file to get the appearance I like. It's now this:

** Summary table

table.summary {
margin: 1em 1em 1em 0;
background: ;
border: 0;
border-collapse: collapse;

.summary th,
.summary td {
border: 0;
padding: 0.2em;

.summary th {
background: ;
text-align: left;

.summary caption {
margin-left: inherit;
margin-right: inherit;
font-weight: bold;

.editsection {
float: right;
margin-left: 5px;

Postscript: ConnectedText 5.02 shows the dates in summary view like this "09/28/2011". This makes the dates more readable—and more like Agenda's dates as well. (Wednesday, September 28, 2011)

Sunday, September 18, 2011


There is another Agenda wannabe. It's called orGenta. It has the look and feel of a real spreadsheet. Since "orGenta stores your Items and Notes in a Microsoft Access database, ... you may run queries in Access, or link to your data in Excel."

orGenta has automatic category assignment and "smart date recognition." I tried it and found it less than intuitive. This may have had to do with the fact that I did not give it enough time and the "feature" that "items get assigned" to categories "in the 'background': you may not see them applied until you expand or contract the TreeView." I found that disconcerting.

I mention it here for completeness' sake, as I have talked about other Agenda-like applications before. In many ways, this is the most "faithful" to Agenda as a "spreadsheet for words." If only it would look less like a spreadsheet.

It's shareware and costs $10.00.

There has been no development since 2006, but it might be worth a look for hard-core Agenda aficionados. I do not belong into that category (no pun intended).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

ResophNotes 1.2.1

ResophNotes is now available in version 1.2.1. It has the following changes:
  1. Support pinned note feature
  2. Support single note mode (F11)
  3. Recognize email address as link
  4. Fix problem for link for selected text
  5. Fix encoding "," in text file name
  6. Allow simple MarkDown export (optional).
I like the second new feature the most, as I only need it for temporary notes that end up later in my main application.[1] See this:

1. See also this, this and that.

Agenda and ConnectedText, V

Here is another way of doing scheduling that is sort of like Agenda's way of doing it. It involves Python scripts and Attributes. This way has the advantage of collecting items from within many different topics. So you could put items like this "[[task:=20110924 - Revise Chapter VII]]" into any topic and have them appear on your Scheduling pages.[1]

This relies on a slightly tweaked script written by Rob Hughes (available here. It was meant for a GTD application but can be used for many other purposes.

On the scheduling page, you insert:

<% Python from gtd import * print_actions_for_contexts(("task",)) %>
<% Python from gtd import * print_actions_for_contexts(("idea",)) %>
<% Python from gtd import * print_actions_for_contexts(("plan",)) %>

The result will be something like this:

Here you have just two columns, namely the name of the attribute and the link to the topic in which the attribute is found. You can get creative by naming your attributes to reflect what would be in other columns, if you used the previous solution. You can also enter your your items into topics that are named to reflect their priority or their project. And finally, you could just put the additional information with the items (attributes) into the topic that contains them. that is the beauty of links that they take you with one link to the referring page.

In any case, I hope to have shown that there are more ways than just one to reproduce Agenda-like behavior in ConnectedText. If I were a programmer and not just a hacker, I could probably vastly improve on this capability.

1. Needless to say that I use AutohotKey to abbreviate stuff like this.


Tobu is an information manager written in Python that relies on columns, very much like e-mail programs, which in turn seem to be indebted to spreadsheets. It has therefore some similarities with Agenda.

Its main constituent are titles, tags and views. You enter items by name and then add tags. The tags are shown in the view as columns. some tags are special, they result in sortable columns. The tags for sortable columns are written like this "cost: 100" or "chapter: 01", and the value after the colon is used to sort the view. "When Tobu sees a sortable tag, it inserts the value of the tag in the column under that tag; when we're dealing with regular tags, an 'x' is inserted to indicate that the tag is present in the record, an empty space indicates that it's not present. You can select the columns you want to see from the top and the program will show just the items who possess the tags you have typed into the box." Tags are sorted alphabetical or numerical, but there "are a few special values that will be sorted in a different way: short month names, short day names and priority descriptions - 'low', 'medium', 'high', 'urgent'".

Titles are like items in Agenda, tags like categories, views like views. Clicking on a column head of a sortable tag will order the view in accordance with this tag. Views in Tobu are really just filters. This is probably true of Agenda as well. However, the tags constitute a flat list, not a hierarchy as in Agenda. And there is no automatic assignment of categories. Nor completion proposals.

The grammar of sortable tags is not that different from attributes or properties in ConnectedText.

The claim is: As the number of items grows to 5k, 10k, 50k and more, it becomes exponentially harder to find a set of relevant items; it's also harder to enter items in the tree structure because you have to choose the most important category among many possible ones. Full-text search helps but it will often produce a set of results that is too big or too small - it is particularly difficult to use search if you're looking for a set of items instead of just one item, and you won't be able to sort results as you may do with Tobu.

It's an interesting project that has possibilities which for the most part are unrealized yet. At this point, I find its concept more important than its usability.

It's donation ware and it works on Linux as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Agenda and ConnectedText, IV

In the last post of this series I showed how yuou can easily reconstruct Agenda's capability on different views on your research data and promised I would next deal with scheduling and planning.

There are several ways of reconstructing this affordance in ConnectedText. Here the first one, using attributes. ConnectedText allows you to assign attributes to text in different topics. Attributes look like this

[[Priority:=high]], [[Priority:=medium]], [[Priority:=low]]
[[What:=Task]], [[What:=Idea]], [[What:=Plan]]

and whatever else you want. I am sure you get the idea.

In each topic you want to appear in a topic used for scheduling, you might add:


It is easy to retrieve and summarize this information in another topic. Let's call it "Schedule" and enter this:




The result will be this, provided you have created the appropriate topics or items:
It does not look quite like the original reconstruction, but it is close enough and I believe it is better, since you can add a lot more columns in this way.

Obviously, it is better to create a template for items that are to be used in a schedule rather than adding the details "by hand." Luckily, ConnectedText has templates.

This is not the only way to achieve Agenda-like scheduling. Nor is it perhaps the best way to achieve it. In this method, items are identical to topics. There is a way to slice and dice the information even further and look at parts of topics. We will take a look at that approach in a future post.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notetab Outlining

Notetab Standard and Notetab Pro have an Outliner of sorts. It basically consists of a flat list of topics which does not seem to allow different levels of notes.

You can however emulate different outline levels quite easily. Go to View|Options|Outline and select "Show heading in Outliner." You will now see the headings at the top of the topics. Adding a space (or two) at the front of the heading will actually show the text as if it were the child of the previous topic. Two (or four) spaces make it appear like the child of the child, etc.[1]

It's not easy to keep track of the spaces, but it will work.

1. Actually, you do not have to make the headings visible. You can also add the spaces directly when you enter the topic name. But I find it easier to keep track of them with the headings visible in the topic.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lotus Agenda and ConnectedText, III

James Fallow's observed in his original review of Agenda what he valued most in the program was a function he "didn't know it possessed when [he] first bought it," namely its ability "to organize and keep track of large quantities of research information." This is where ConnectedText really shines.

As Fallows observed:
Suppose you had collected information on your computer in dribs and drabs, knowing that eventually would need to put it together in some organized way. Perhaps you had been copying out notes and citations for a thesis ... Agenda can then sort the information into usable categories, based on the rules you specify.
The same thing will hold for ConnectedText 5 which will have automatic category recognition. The difference is that you do not have to specify rules, but that the program will do so automatically, based on your past assignment of categories. This does not, however, prevent you from assigning categories at will either. (How do I know? I was a beta tester.)

But categories are only one way to organize the information. You can also use smart topics, as I suggested in my previous post see II.

Let's take Fallows' example:
If your project concerns the history of China, you could specify that any paragraph containing the words "John King Fairbank" could be assigned to categories such as "Harvard scholars," "long-term impact of American missionary families," and "Who Lost China controversy." If you were research world leaders, you could assign all names including "King" to the "royalty" category, except those also including the words "John Fairbank," "Martin Luther," or "Kong."
He admits this is time consuming, but finds that "occe you have laid out" these categories, "Agenda can retroactively apply them information already on your computer, and automatically categorize each new bit of data you add."

The pay-off is that you will then be able to define views in Agenda and can as a result
switch from view to view and see exactly the information you are looking for. If I want to see all items concerning relations between America and China, I bring up one view. If I want to see all citations I've collected from the writings of John King Fairbank, including some that were also in the "America and China" view, I can switch there. Then, if I want to see notes on the influence the children of American missionaries in Asia, I can switch to another view and see comments from Fairbank, and Edwin Reischauer, and Henry Luce.
To achieve this in ConnectedText you do not create categories like in Agenda or folders like in Ecco but a topic in which you formulate an inline query. So, if you want a view that contains all items (topics) on America and China, you can formulate a query like: [[$ASK:China & America|INDEX]] (where Index indicates only that you want the material ordered in a bullet list, there are other ways of ordering the results of these searches, but this is not important for the present topic. More important is that ConnectedText does not just allow simple searches, but expressions composed of: [(] [NOT] {AND, OR, NEAR, XOR} [NOT] [)]. It also allows wildcards, etc. Categories, attributes and predicates can also be searched for.[1] Regular expressions cannot be used in inline queries, however.

You do not have to worry about the contents of a smart page. If you add another topic that satisfies its criteria, it will be automatically added to the page. Category pages are, by the way, work very much like smart topics as well. They "search" for pages with categories.

So, as I suggested in the last post, you might want to create a page called "Views" in which you collect all the different pages that you consider as views. You can put a link to that view into the footer so that it is available on every topic page, like so:

Clicking on Views at the bottom might bring up a page like this:

And here is a view of topics that contain references to ConnectedText in my main note-taking file:

This is the easiest part of reconstructing Agenda's capability in ConnectedText. Since this was, however, the most important use many people made of Agenda, it is quite significant already. I will address scheduling and planning in a future post.

[1] More about that later.

Scrolls, Books and Tablets

There is an interesting article in the New Tork Times about what came before the book and what seems to be coming after it.

No further comment!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lotus Agenda and ConnectedText, II

Let's look at the "moving parts" of Agenda and ConnectedText and compare them. I will ignore such things as the ability to handle pictures, videos and other non-textual objects. I concentrate on textual matters. I will also leave out automatic date assignments that make Agenda special, as they can be reconstructed with a program like AutoHotkey.
  1. files,
  2. (only one file can be open at a time)
  3. items and notes (it manages mainly items which can have 150 words; you can attach notes by pressing F5; notes can have 1400 words (or about 4-6 pages)
  4. columns and
  5. categories,
  6. views.[1]
ConnectedText has
  1. projects (the equivalent of files; more than one file can be open at a time),
  2. topics (the rough equivalent of items and notes;),
  3. links (completely absent in Agenda); they incluce inter-project links,
  4. categories (that behave a bit different from Agenda's categories),
  5. properties and attribute (which have no equivalent in Agenda) and
  6. search (which allows you to construct "smart topics;" perhaps surprisingly, Agenda had no search function). Search can find topics in any open project

Items: Anything can be an item: appointments, tasks, quotations "or anything else you want to find later on" (Fallows). They are the basic units of information in Agenda. They are small chunks of information, i.e. they must be no longer than 150 words long. This leads to the granular or chunky approach to managing information that I have always liked. Items are similar to the headings of index cards. The notes would be like the rest of the index card, but can hold a lot more information than a 3x5 card could (i.e. 10,000 characters). The same holds for ConnectedText, except that items and notes are more closely integrated. "Item" corresponds to the title of a ConnectedText topic and "Note" to its content.

Ecco also had items, with the only difference that these items were presented in Agenda as a plain list, in which everything seems to assigned the same level of significance. Rather, items are by default presented as an outline. This is the most important difference between Agenda and Ecco. It allowed a more fine-grained characterization of items. Items in Ecco could also be much longer. But this also cluttered the original design and made it more confusing to some who saw in Ecco mainly an outliner whereas it really was a spread sheet with outlining capabilities. (See below.)

Columns: Let's look next at columns. They represent the only obvious difference between Agenda and ConnectedText. And this is no small matter, as columns are absolutely central for Agenda. They may be said to be the "engine" of Agenda. It was was designed to be a "spreadsheet for words." They correspond to the columns in spreadsheets. Items provide the rows. So, Agenda provides you with different cells in a two-dimensional matrix or grid consisting of rows and columns, just like a spreadsheet. Without columns Agenda would be just like any other list manager. With columns it is much more powerful, i.e. it is a spread sheet for Word. Columns can be standard or text, numeric or date columns. (They are standardly indexed, but they can also be made unindexed).

Ecco later copied this approach. It also had columns, but they added check marks, pop-ups and Gantt chart columns.[2] Both allow you to view the information in accordance with different columns. As already mentioned ConnectedText lacks this capability.

Categories: The columns are closely integrated with categories. In fact, they are the main means for assigning categories to items and they are essential for defining views. Views are like different tables in a spreadsheet. Everything in Agenda is a category in some sense. For that reason, they are usually considered to be the central feature of Agenda, but it is important to remember that categories need or are columns as well. It is this that makes them more interesting than ordinary categories or tags. What makes the categories even more interesting is that they are "automatic." In other words, you can specify rules that cause Agenda to apply certain items to categories. The most primitive rule is to assign a topic to a category, if the name of the category appears anywhere in the item text, but you can specify also a short word and a number of other key words that trigger the assignment. You can also specify conditions for the assignments. These assignment conditions have to with the fact that categories can be nested or form an acyclic graph, a tree, in other words. They specify whether an item will inherit the category from a parent or a child in a tree.

Ecco essentially followed Agenda here as well. But categories became Folders with auto-assignment rules. The "auto-assign feature automatically evaluates items throughout your file (PhoneBook, Calendar, and Notepads) and gathers them into specific folders" (Ecco Help File). This shows that categories are a bit like smart folders or folders whose contents are determined by a saved query. Version 5 of ConnectedText will also allow auto-assignment of categories. Categories are, however, a bit different from categories in Agenda simply because they are not connected with columns. Accordingly, they cannot, per se, be used to "pivot" the information spreadsheet-like to open up different views in the way that Agenda can.

Views: This brings us to views. One of the difference between Agenda's spreadsheet-like behavior and a textbase conceived along the lines of a database is that it eliminates queries. You don't have to search explicitly, but you define a "view" in which information is represented in accordance with the categories and columns. This means that Agenda can sort any information you have put into it by categories, which in turn are determined by rules you have specified before. In Ecco views are most closely related to Notepads, which allow you to view the same information from different "perspectives" or in accordance with different folders. There is even one notepad for search results.

While ConnectedText has no folder—everything is an item—it does have the equivalent of smart folders, namely "smart topics." This smart topics are essentially saved searches (as in Ecco), but they are much more powerful and include not just and, or nearby and not, but also RegEx expressions.[3] You can not only search for text in topics, but also for categories (predicates and attributes, about which we have not yet talked) and other things. These smart topics correspond very closely to views in Agenda. In Agenda you have to press F8 to show the different views you have designed and then select one. In ConnectedText you can name one (or more) topic(s) called views, in which you reference the views you have designed. You can furthermore put this topic into the header or footer and have immediate access to it by pressing on it.

Links: The last functionality has, of course to do with the ability easily to link topics (or what would be items in Agenda. all you have to do is enclose the topic in Square brackets, like so [[Views]]. Linking adds a whole new dimension that is completely absent from Agenda (and Ecco). As I have written about Wikis many times before, I will not say anything more than that it can be very useful in reconstructing some of the features directly available in Agenda. (Just see the example above).

Properties and Attributes: You can assign properties to topics, like "priority," "done," etc., etc. Your imagination is the limit. These properties are never displayed in a topic, but they can be used in Searches. You can also define attributes, that is, expressions like "[[$PR:Status:=OK|DateDue:=20080519]]". You can also search for them (and they have their own "smart topics" that display all the topics with these attributes. This semantic dimension was, of course, completely missing in Agenda.

Search: Enough said already. ConnectedText has the most powerful search available in Wiki software. Next time, I will get into how to reconstruct Agenda's capability connected with rows and categories (and then some).

1. There are also sections. they are parts of views and ultimately just categories.

2. I discuss Ecco here as a successor to Agenda, but Zoot is another worthy contender. It recreates some of Agenda's capabilities. Another one was InfoHandler, but it's development has stopped. It can, however, import Agenda files. Still other applications, i.e. those which rely on keywords or hierarchically order keywords, have very limited similarities.

3. It appears that one of the recent add-ons of Ecco, developed by independent developers, adds this capability, but I have not tried it out. In ConnectedText RegEx does not work in inline queries.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lotus Agenda and ConnectedText, I

I have been thinking about Lotus Agenda and ConnectedText lately. My question is whether one can re-create Agenda's functionality in ConnectedText. I think it is possible. Here a first step. Compare these two Screenshots:

More later about the why and how.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Loose Links" versus "Tight Links"

In a loose analogy to the distinction between hard and soft links that is sometimes made when referring to file links, one may perhaps distinguish between loose and tight links in a knowledge base. The contrast may perhaps also be characterized as one between "indirect" links and "direct" links. Any application that relies on keywords, tags or categories to connect different entries in its database, may be said to rely on indirect or loose links. An application that relies mainly on actual references of one item to another, like a Wiki (or other hyper-textual applications) may be said to rely on direct or tight links.

I have argued before that just relying on indirect links is ineffective (and have criticized a previous incarnation of Luedecke's Zettelkasten for doing this, since it claims to have been conceived after Luhmann's system which relied almost exclusively on direct or hard links).

There is obviously no reason why a wiki application that relies mainly on direct links cannot also utilize the loose links that tags or categories provide. In fact, the two methods are not contradictory but complementary. They offer different views of the same data, possibly opening up new perspectives.

Both types of links or connections depend largely on deliberate input by the maintainer or user of the knowledge base. She has to make the link or assign the category (or keyword) explicitly.

There is an even "looser" connection opened up by an algorithm that computes which topics are "like" the topic under consideration.[1] This kind of connection does not need special deliberation by the user. It adds another view or perspective (and one that will perhaps increase "serendipity").

1. See ConnectedText 5.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Agenda, Ecco and the Stupidity of the Marketplace

Bad ideas spread like wildfire, so why didn't a good one catch on? is a post on why Agenda and Ecco were killed by the marketplace. It is a copy of an article by Andrew Brown in the Guardian from 2007, but it's still worth reading.[1]

No further comment!

1. Here the link to the original article, which I found later.

What I Like Most about ConnectedText 5

ConnectedText version 5 is just about to be released. It is a major advance. It is therefor imporssible to mention all significant improvements and additions. Here are the things I like most:
  1. It now allows a different spell checker for different projects. Since some of my projects are in German and some in English that is important to me. Secondly, it now uses the same spell check engine as Open Office or LibreOffice.
  2. You can now protect projects with a password (if you want).
  3. It allows now a special "project outline" for every project in addition to ordinary outlines. You can have several open and the windows can float. I know that ConnectedText is not an outliner per se, but it's outlining window—essentially a one-pane outliner—is more capable than many dedicated outliners. In conjunction with the wiki part, it also becomes a very capable two-pane outliner. You can now create new topics from the outliner itself.
  4. It can display categories (and property searches) as clouds. Really cool! Property searches can also be displayed as pie charts.
  5. It now supports check- and comboboxes in topics.
  6. It now supports Python 2.7 and 3.2.
  7. The Regex engine has been further improved. There is, in fact, no other wiki application (for the desktop or the web) that has search capabilities as strong as those of ConnectedText. Most of the other Wikis have rather anemic search capabilities. A TiddlyWiki, for instance, might do for a few hundred entries, but it is not at all suitable for thousands or tenth of thousands of entries (and not just because of search). Accordingly, it is not suited to serious applications.
  8. ConnectedText now has a function, called "Like this" which displays topics that have significant similarities to the topic in view. This is very much like the DevonThink command that so many people consider to be an example of artificial intelligence. I know of no other application for the PC that has this affordance.
ConnectedText remains a desktop wiki and I like it that way. It's a virtue. In fact, ConnectedText's syntax is very much like MarkDown (or better (MultiMarkdown) that is praised so much on OS X.

There are people who do not know any better and think that a light markup language like the one used by ConnecteText is a limitation or gets in the way. This is like arguing that an airplane is inferior to a car because it has more controls!

ConnectedText does have a learning curve, but it is very easy to get started with the basics.

It probably does not need repeating, but I will do it anyway: ConnectedText is the only application I use every day. It's the first one I open and the last one I close. Most of my thinking and writing goes on in ConnectedText. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lotus Agenda's Categories

As regular followers of this blog know, I have a certain nostalgia for Lotus Agenda. I am always on the lookout for a serious re-write of the program. Chandler which was supposed to be Agenda re-incarnated fell seriously short and seems to have fallen into oblivion. There was a rewrite for Linux, called Beeswax. It looked good, but there seems to have been no development since the end of 2008. There was also an attempt of a rewrite in PHP. It also seems to be stalled since September 2010.

The author of the last attempt does, however, offer an interesting discussion of categories in Agenda. See here and here. He notes that "one of the neat things that Agenda will do is run through the text looking for category matches. Once these categories exist then Agenda will become 'smarter' and make these assignments automatically."

I think he is right. Automatic category assignment and automatic date recogniton is what sets Agenda apart even today. The latter is easy to implement. In fact, I have written some AutoHotkey scripts that recognize "/tomorrow" or "/next Tuesday", for instance, as dates and substitute a date that is recognized by my favorite note-taking application (ConnectedText). The former seems hard. To be sure, there are many applications that allow you manually to add "keywords" or "tags" to your text, but I am not sure that there are any that do it automatically. I wonder whether it can (or should) be implemented in my favorite application.[1]

1. Just discovered that Evernote can apparently do it. Checked it out, but find it is nothing to write home about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Update on Elyse and RikiTikiTavi

I uninstalled both of them. Elyse is just useful for static files. RikiTikiTavi has less features than Notebook and a few bugs (won't open doc files on my system, for instance).

If You Were Wondering about Genetic Modification

It's here—and it's beautiful, or is it scary, or both?

"The general process of developing fluorescent fish … begins by adding a fluorescence gene to the fish before it hatches from its egg." And the "fluorescent protein genes occur naturally, and are derived from marine organisms." I am sure other naturally occurring proteins can be incorporated into different species with amazing or terrifying results. When I was teaching at Purdue fifteen years ago, some scientists were already experimenting with chicken genes and potatoes.

I know this has nothing to do with note-taking (except in the sense that we all would do well to take note of these developments)!

No further comment!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Wikitaxi allows you to "take Wikipedia with you while you are offline."

It's an interesting application, if you rely on Wikipedia. I have given up on it, however, because of the heavy-handed practices of subject editors.

Just take a look at this and the following note: "The topic of this article may not meet the general notability guideline. Please help to establish notability by adding reliable, secondary sources about the topic. If notability cannot be established, the article is likely to be merged, redirected, or deleted. (May 2010)."

Idiots rule!

WikiCreole, Again

I posted the cheat sheet for WikiCreole before, but forgot. See here.

It's relevant for the previous post on Rikitikitavi .

RikiTikiWiki for Windows

This application is described as a "desktop wiki, an information sharing tool for collecting and organizing shared knowledge into a hyper-linked, searchable database." The installation instructions tell you to install the wiki into "a shared folder on the network" and to give all staff read/write privileges.

It turns out, you do not need to do this. Any folder will do.

The wiki comes with an implementation of a hospital pharmacy department. It is easy to delete this content and to use it for any kind of information.

Here the kicker: It is nothing but a rewrite in Delphi of Will Duquette's Notebook application which I used between 2003 and 2005 and for which I still have a soft spot in my heart. The author, Rick Tharp, used Delphi, DISQLite3 Personal and DICreole, a markup parser, converter and document generator for the Creole markup language for Delphi. So you don't have to use html tags, as you did in Will Duquette's Notebook. I think this is a welcome addition.[1]

Wikicreole is very close to ConnectedText's markup language.

The author asks for a $50 donation at download time. Will Duquette's application was always free (and I am sorry he seems to have lost interest and does not seem to develop it any further).

I have for now installed the program in a Dropbox folder, so I can use it for quick notes.

I think this implementation is a very good application to get your feet wet with wikis, though I am sure that after a while, you will want more, like ConnectedText.

1. On the other hand, you could customize Notebook, using Tcl/Tk. This no longer works in this application which also protects some pages. It's missing the sidebar and the ability to crate more than one log page. Nor can it handle more than one file.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Can Tags Cut It?

Here is an interesting argument to the effect that tags aren't really helpful in classifying things. It focuses on journalistic articles, but seems to me valid for almost any area of knowledge: "Tags are not the right way of disclosing the rich interconnections between news articles and not the right way of packing them together."

They "are labels without any context. Tags are vague, and it’s difficult to tag content consistently."

The author, Stijn Debrouwere, argues that controlled vocabularies and relationships are the answer: "We need to re-engineer tags so that they’ll allow us to represent the rich relationships between our content and the things that content talks about." Relationships or connections are more important to the way we think about the world and our writing about it than tags suggest.

I need to think more about some of the most basic standard relationships of my stuff in Connectedtext. This article is a good starting point!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Elyse seems to be the one I have been looking for. Love at first sight.

From their Website: "The concept of folders and directories is replaced in Elyse by tag nodes. Each node is somewhat like a saved search only much faster. Nodes are arranged in trees and give a similar effect to that of folders and directories. The difference is that the trees can be rearranged without any impact on how the files are stored or what tags are associated with each file. The same copy of one file can simultaneously appear in multiple overlapping groups of files, each group represented by a node. For example, you might have a photo of the family at the beach while on holidays. The same one file in Elyse can appear in a list of last summer's holiday photos and also in a list of photos of family members."

"Elyse also recognises that relationships exist between tags. For example: lions, ostriches and elephants are all animals. By creating a tag relationship structure to define these relationships it becomes possible to instantly create a list of all files that have an animal type tag associated with them. There is no need to attach the tag animal to every file about an animal."

It's available for both Windows and the OS X.

I will post more after I have used it extensively.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


In a post from 24 March 2005 in N + 1, one finds the following claim about the "The Intellectual Situation:"
Was theory a gigantic hoax? On the contrary. It was the only salvation, for a twenty year period, from two colossal abdications by American thinkers and writers. From about 1975 to 1995, through a historical accident, a lot of American thinking and mental living got done by people who were French, and by young Americans who followed the French.
I wonder where someone who writes like that takes the chuzpah! Whatever one may think about "theory"—and I am rather critical of "it"— questions like "Was theory a gigantic hoax?" are rather uncritical. What about "some aspects of ..." or "certain developments ..." or certain practitioners of ..."? What about some subtlety? The answer "On the contrary. It is the only salvation ..." is equally vacuous.

No wonder "theory" has a bad name in some circles! Stuff like this does not even beg a question.

Why did I come across this now? Someone at 3quarksdaily thought it needed our attention. I am going to remove this site from my sidebar, as the quality of the posts of late leave much to be desired.

Remember the Apple Newton?

Apparently, some people—at least one person—are still using it.

No further comment!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How Pencils Are Made

See Pencil Sandwiches ... interesting (by way of The Pen Addict .)

No further comment!

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Houdini must must have come out around the same time as Hypercard which was less a predecessor of wiki and more of an all-around hypertext application. It was advertised as a "software erector set," or a kind of do-it yourself language for organizing information.

Here is an interesting video from 1987, explaining how Hypercard can be used.

Should I say that ConnectedText not only replaces Hypercard in many respects, but that I consider it a definite improvement over it in some respects? Version 5 should be out soon.

1. I discussed a Hypercard application before.

The First Personal Wiki?

Here what appears to be the text of an advertisement or a flyer from the late 1980s (I think):
HOUDINI is a relational text editor, designed to build cognitive networks. "Every word, line, sentence, or paragraph can link to (affect or be affected by) as many other units of text as desired, creating spider webs of connections." In addition to basic word processing commands, it includes many commands to create, edit, analyze, modify or remove links. Apparently it has the ability to add cross-linked notes to original text, and then organize by cross-linkages. Can handle > 1K nodes & 8K links. The VIEW command allows the tracing of paths thru these links, while searching allows the retrieval of all nodes linked together. $89 (money-back guarantee) from MaxThink, 230 Crocker, Piedmont Calif. 94610 ...
I remember fooling around with this program, making a Hypertext of Kant's Groundwork that never came to anything. It was far ahead of it's time. I still think it is a good short description of the hypertextual approach to note-taking and writing.

While the author has ported Maxthink, one of the earliest Outliners, to Windows, he does not seem to have made any effort to re-create Houdini (or Transtext or Hyplus, or HyperRez). Perhaps he thinks that Personal Wikis do it all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Waterman Panta

I bought a Waterman Panta some time ago. It’s one of the first multi-function pens ever made. It was made in the fifties and sixties.


What I did not know when I bought it was that the refill, called "Pantabille," is no longer made. You can still buy some at ridiculously high prices in England, but even if you are will to pay the price, they have only black ones left at this time.

The refills have a slightly greater diameter and a shorter than the standard D1 refills for multi-function pens (5 4/8’’ rather than 5 5/8 ‘’). I found that Pentel BKSS7 (made for the four-color “Rolly”) are the right thickness and can be cut to size. The process is a bit messy, however, as the ink leaks after you have cut the refill to size. Scooping out a little ink,  inserting a toothpick as far as it will fit, and breaking it off will fix it. But you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty.

As it turns out, standard D1 also work—and better. You need to cut off 1/8 of inch, which is easy with a razor saw or even a sharp utility knife (you just have to score it and then break it off). Ink is not a problem as these things are not even close to being filled to the top . Makes you wonder what you really pay for!)

The thickness is easily adjusted by electrical tape or even a bit of Scotch tape. (You don’t need to the whole thing, but only the part where clamping mechanism closes down). Works like a charm.

I like the look and feel of my Panta 3.

Ten Editors for Webpages

See 10 Fantastic Free Web Page Editors.

No further comment!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Goodbye Brainstorm

I have written about Brainstorm before, as I liked it a lot.[1] It was/is a capable program, a good alternative to an outliner and great for sorting things out.

Nothing really happened since the original developers sold the program a few years back. The last release date is June 23, 2008. It seems to have changed ownership again, and a lot of things have happened: none of them good!

I understand the reason for the new name "BrainstormWFO"—at least “sort of.” Searching for “Brainstorm” returns many irrelevant results, if you want to find out about this program. But Brainstorm is not an outliner.

What is much worse is the hype perpetrated on the new Website. I find it absolutely distasteful and irresponsible. (If you don’t trust me on this, check it out yourself.)

There may be others who like this sort of thing, but I doubt that I know anyone like that.

It seems that the new owner is not a programmer either, but even if he is, I fear for the integrity of a program that I have used for such a long time.

This program would have deserved better!

1. See Brainstorm Search.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Earliest Fountain Pen?

Friedrich Nicolai published in 1783 a travelogue: Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz im Jahre 1781, Nebst Bemerkungen über Gelehrsamkeit, Industrie, Religion und Sitten.  Band I, (Berlin und Stettin, 1783). In it he describes what might well be the first fountain pen:

A traveller must necessarily keep a detailed journal of his observations and notes. He must continue it on a daily basis because otherwise the multitude of subjects will certainly cause  him to forget some things entirely and lead him not to remember the circumstances correctly. It is thus necessary to write down everything as soon as possible. For, if you rely only on your memory, your imagination will, even given your best intentions of telling the truth, deceive you. You will represent things not as you really saw them, but as you later imagined them. I became acquainted  quite by accident in Leipzig at Professor Füllte’s with a kind of Writing Implement (literally: Feather) which can be carried in your pocket and which always contains ink. This useful invention seem to be really unknown and not as much available [as it should be]. It will be convenient for everyone who wants to quickly record his thoughts while taking a stroll, being in the country or anywhere else. It is especially useful for a traveler. Writing things down  with a pencil, which quickly fades, or continuously copying things from slates or cards, is very tiresome. Writing in Inns is difficult because often your time and motivation is gone before you have prepared ink and feather. But the new implement allows you to use every moment. You can even use it in libraries, galleries, museums and faithfully record; all objects and the impressions they made on you.[1]
Nicolai added a picture of the new pen. It even looks very much like a later fountain pen (with cap and all).

Nicolai Pencil

Click to enlarge! Try to tune out the Ionic/Doric Columns in the background.

1. Here the German: “Ein Reisender muß nothwendig ein ausführliches Tagebuch von seinen Beobachtungen und Bemerkungen halten, und taglich fortführen; sonst wird die Menge von Gegenständen, gewiß verursachen, daß er manches vergißt, und manches sich unter nicht völlig richtigen Umstanden vorstellt. Es ist also nöthig, alles so geschwind aufzuschreiben , als nur immer möglich ist. Der Unterlaßung dieser Vorsicht ist gewiß ein großer Theit der Unrichtigkeiten, die sich in Reisebeschreibungen finden, zuzuschreiben. Denn wenn man sich bloß auf sein Gedächtniß verlaßt; so wird man, bey dem besten Willen die Wahrheit zu sagen, von seiner Einbildungskraft betrogen, und schreibt die Sache auf, nicht wie man sie wirklich gesehen, sondern wie man sie sich nach einiger Zeit vorgestellt hat. Ich lernte zufälligerweise in Leipzig bey Herrn Professor Füllte eine Art von Schreibfeder kennen, die in der Tasche getragen werden, kann, und in welcher bestandig Dinte enthalten ist. Diese nützliche Erfindung ist wirklich nicht bekannt und allgemein genung. Einem jeden, der beym Spazierengehen, auf dem Lande, oder sonst, Gedanken geschwind aufzeichnen will, ist sie sehr bequem, aber besonders ist sie einem Reisenden von großem Nutzen. Das Aufschreiben mit Bleystift, das bald verlöscht, und das beständige Abschreiben aus Schreibtafeln, oder von Karten, ist höchst beschwerlich; und wenn man oft in Wirthshäusern etwas aufzeichnen möchte so ist Zeit und Lust vergangen, ehe man Dinte und Feder bekommt. Vermittelst einer solchen Feder aber kann man jeden Augenblick benutzen. Man kann sogar Bibliotheken, Gemäldesammlungen, Naturalienkabinetter, mit der Feder in der Hand besehen, und von allen Gegenständen den Eindruck, den sie gemacht haben, getreuer verzeichnen.