Sunday, January 29, 2012

Defying Logic?

This post by Michael Leddy seems closely related to my post on thoughtlessness.

It clearly shows that the thoughtlessness of the typical consumer is matched by the wishful thinking of one of the biggest book sellers.

No further comment!

Bill Gates' Notes

See How Bill Gates Takes Notes.

Thanks to Mark Bernstein.

No further comment!

Kindle Notes, Again

I wrote more than a year ago about the Kindle Clipping File. In particular, one reader has suggested I say something about the service which allows you to transform the clippings file to Excel, Word and PDF, download them, or publish them to Evernote.

This is not the only solution, if txt files are a problem for you. Professor's Notes offers a Word macro that takes the text and makes it "a very nice readable document."[1] The site also has some tips on what to do with Kindle files on the iPhone or the Android.

There also seems to be a java application that parses the big clippings file into smaller files according to the books read yy.[2} Other utilities exist, like an application to transform it into a cvs file.

For the Mac, there is an application, called Notescraper which is in Beta, however. It exports to Evernote and OmniOutliner.

1. See also this.

2. Use at your own risk, I have not tried it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scribe 1.1

Scribe now supports opening and saving OPML files.

It also supports now "legal style" outlines (1, 1.1, 1.1.1), bullets and audio recording.

The first feature is, from my point of view, the most important.

What is somewhat weird is that you cannot open OPML files from the file menu of Scribe. If you click on an OPML file, you can select Scribe as the application to open it, and even make it the default application for opening OPML. It would be good, if such files could be opened from within Scribe, however.[1]

1. See also the older post on Scribe.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Thoughtlessness

I just read a post of almost breath-taking thoughtlessness. It's entitled "Why I Don’t Buy Books From Bookstores." It starts out like this: "I want to make this crystal clear: I love bookstores. I love going to them and checking out the bookshelves and the magazine racks, and finding some good things to read." And it ends: "As someone who has embraced e-readers, I rarely find myself purchasing from brick-and-mortar bookstores anymore. While I do enjoy a physical book from time to time, I love my Kindle and can get books cheaper and instantly 99% of the time. Even if you don’t have an e-reader, having the ability to price-check and even order books from a smart phone makes it really hard to justify spending the extra 15-30% just to get the book that moment."

Well, buddy, with friends (or customers?) like you, bookstores do not need enemies. They will go broke and you will not "be going to them and checking out the bookshelves." But I guess that would not be sufficient justification for spending a little more, if you are a freeloader.

It's not that I don't have a Kindle and an iPad, but books still do have an important place in my life, and I do hope they will have a similar place in the lives of my grandchildren.

Nietzsche's Notebooks

Nietzsche's Notebooks are available in facsimile online here.

I am not sure whether I will spend much time perusing them. This page is interesting, if only it tells us something about Nietsche's view of women. "Geschlechtsbefriedigung" or sexual "satisfaction" is crossed out. Das "Mütterliche" or the "moterly [element]" seems to predominate.

"133. The demand to be loved is the greatest presumption." It would be interesting to investigate which role the notebooks played in his writing. (I am sure there must be a ton of literature on this already.)

Later that day: Apparently, the first page is not in Nietzsche's own handwriting. Here is a page that is:

Freud's Chair

See here and here. I wonder whether it is as comfortable as it looks.

No further comment!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Joubert's Notebooks

The previous post occasioned another look at Joubert's Notebook or better, at Auster's Selections from Joubert's Notebook. If we can believe Auster, then Joubert came to realize slowly that "the notebooks were an end in themselves, eventually admitting that 'these thoughts form not only the foundation of my work, but of my life.'" (xi)

Perhaps Auster is right, but note that he speaks of "these thoughts" and not "these notebooks" (p. 99). Joubert makes sharp distinctions between words, writings and thoughts throughout the selection and he observes once that "a thought is a thing as teal as a cannon ball" (74). In fact he seems to be a Platonist of some sort who vows in 1802 "From this day forward, to give up Locke, and to agree never to read another word he has written" (78). One of his questions is "Whether thought can exist outside the mind in the same way a word can exist outside the mouth" (89). He seems interested in a "poetry of thought" (92) and argues a "thought is perfectly available only when it is perfectly available, that is to say when one can place it and detach it at will" (115). It must "be able "to survive outside the mind: which means outside any systems of intentions of the author." Furthermore, the words must "also clearly detach themselves from the paper" (121f.)

In other words, it is not the notebooks that are the foundation of his life and work, but the impersonal thoughts he strives to develop. The notebook is a means towards that end. I think this distinction is important.

On the Integrity of Books

When printed books first appeared, they were seen by some as cheap commodities. Note-taking for them consisted of cutting out the passages that were of interest and collecting them in some place, though it was more common to excerpt material on separate slips of paper. Conrad Gessner, the "German Pliny," (1516-1565) describes a hybrid method in some detail. He describes a method for indexing, how to copy "the material for each entry, so that the slips can be moved around to alphabetize them until the index is complete and the slips are permanently glued onto sheets for printing. Gessner also explains that the contents of the slips need not always be copied out by hand but could be citations cut out of other books. "For this purpose two copies [of the book] are needed [one for text on the recto, the other for text on the verso]."This method represents a shortcut with "various advantages to studies." He used alphabetization to order this stuff.

Gessner also cut up letters he received and placed them in the appropriate places among his papers according to their subject. There is a passage in which Gessner explains to Johann Bauhin that he could not respond (again) to a letter he had received because he had cut it up and put the pieces into his "piles of paper."[1]

The book was nothing sacrosanct.

Alberto Manguel reports an even more brutal method in his book A Reader on Reading. Joseph Joubert in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century did not cut out of books what he needed, but rather discarded everything he did not need or did not like. He quotes Chateaubriand: "When he read, he would tear out of his books the pages he did not like, thereby achieving a library entirely to his taste, composed of hollowed-out books bound in covers that were too large for them" (125).[2]

This betrays confidence. How could he be so sure that he did not miss anything of importance and that his taste would not change? It would have been better, if he had bought two copies of each book, like Gessner.

1. Brian W. Ogilvie, The Science of Describing: Natural History in Renaissance Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 180.

2. Joubert is interesting. See Joseph Joubert, The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection Tr. Paul Auster (New York: New York Reviews Book, 2005). Perhaps this quote explains his confidence, if only in part: "Properly speaking, man inhabits only his head and his heart. All other places are vainly before his eyes, at his sides, and under his feet: he himself is not there at all" (p. 126). But see also p. 75: "No. I am not angry with myself, but I am angry with books."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Putting Dots in the Margins of Books

Here is a post on Nicholson Baker's reading habits—or rather it is about the similarity of the blog-writer's own reading habits and those of Nicholson Baker, who
When I come across something I really like in a book, I put a little dot in the margin. Not a check, not a double line—these would be pedantic—but a single, nearly invisible tap or nudge of the pen-tip that could almost be a dark flick in the paper.
I also write the numbers of the marked pages in the back. Then—and this is the most important part—at some later date, sometimes years later, I refer to the page numbers, locate the dots, and copy in a spiral-bound notebook the passages that have awaited my return.
There are also references to other authors and their practices.

I follow a similar method, but I underline the passages, mark the pages that have underline passages, and then transcribe or summarize the important points in ConnectedText. Why don't I use the electronic form right away. A lot of my reading takes place on the "T" — one hour to the office, one hour to go back home. The practice of marginal dots seems to be going back a long time, that is, to the time even before the printed book.

The blog contains much about the author's ideas about "commonplacing." His ideas do not always accord with the results of my research and thinking—some of which can be found in this blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Have You Read All These Books?"

If you have any sizable collection of books, I am sure you have been asked frequently: "Have you read all these books?" It's an annoying question because it betrays that the person who asks it is not a serious reader. Any answer you give: "yes", "yes, but" "no" ... will almost certainly not be understood. I dread the question because I usually want to be "nice." But how do you explain something as complicated as reading and the need to keep books around to someone who has never thought about serious reading.

I recently came across an answer that is as good as any: "The best library contains both books you have read, and books you have not. The latter should grow in proportion as the library expands. A working library is as much a place for the possible as it is a record of the past."[1] But I will not use it either to answer people who ask the question.

1. See here — an interesting site.

In Praise of Free Links

No, I do not mean the "free link exchanges" or "free links to your webpage" or any of the other cheesy marketing tools. Rather I mean the ability to enclose any word in two double brackets "[[like so]]" in order to create an instant link to a page with that name. It fundamentally changed the way I write and think when I discovered it about nine years ago. The ability easily to start a new thread, to concentrate at the same time on the matter at hand, and to connect your thoughts with other ideas and notes I had previously written down was a real real revelation to me. Perhaps it did not just change my writing, but even my life. I have never looked back since adopting it first in Wikit and then in Notebook. I also liked very much Tkoutline for that basic ability. It is what made me fall in love with personal wikis. Indeed, it represents the essence of the wiki-way for me. Collaboration with others was never important in this.

This ability to create free links is a basic affordance of most wikis, though some insist on keeping the ugly CamelCase convention of the earliest implementations (which I never liked). Even more annoying is that many wiki-like applications do not implement it. Voodoopad, for instance, makes you select a word and click on a special link button (or press ⌘ L) which defeats the very purpose of being able to link effortlessly by merely writing some markup (or markdown); and this is one of the main reasons why I could never warm up to it.

Notational Velocity (I use the fork nvALT) is an application that has implemented free links recently. Needless to say, it has become my favorite application for taking temporary notes precisely for this reason. It's not the only one, Resophnotes on the Windows Platform did so as well. Emacs and Vim have plugins that allow you to do essentially the same, but, though tempted by them, I have always considered them more trouble than they are worth. Notetab and JotPlus have implemented about half of the capability. They allow you to create a link by typing a "[[free link]]", but it's up to you to make sure that the link exists. Links in Notetab's outline files point to different locations in the outline, but they can also refer to files on the disk.

I am not aware of other editors that have adopted this feature and would be happy to hear about them. [1]

1. This feature — to be perfectly clear — is the function that allows you to create a link by enclosing a word (or words) in double brackets and does not use some other more or less clunky way to do this.
I know of the Textmate bundle for Textmate.

Monday, January 9, 2012

On Writing Utensils, Again

Here is how one science fiction writer, Tobias Buckell, uses his computer. It's some evidence how the implements or utensils can influence how you work. Having had difficulties with pens, he says:
My ability to write doubled when my mother gave me her Brother typewriter. It had 4 lines on a screen that would queue up before typing, and I still to this day type 4 lines, then go back and proof those 4 lines before continuing on.
Whether this has an influence on what he writes is, of course, a different story.

He now uses a Mac. OmniOutliner, DevonThink and TextEdit are his main applications. Writing by hand plays a small role.[2]

The setup is interesting — at least to me! The OmniOutlner/TextEdit setup does not just seem to reproduce Scrivener's Project management features (minus cork board) but improve on it (because OmniOutliner is a much more powerful Outliner than the one built into Scrivener). And the DevonThink component corresponds to my use of ConnectedText. I don't see any obvious way to integrate OmniOutliner with Ulysses, however. In fact, the "Mac-way" of favoring applications that do not allow access to the file structure is beginning to grate on me.

One other question occurs to me in connection with Buckell's post: Do software applications qualify as "writing implements"? We "use" implements, but writing software is also a medium or, perhaps better, ... (actually nothing better occurs to me at the moment!)

1. See also this earlier post on how he wrote an earlier novel
. 2. The error thrown by the DevonThink WebSite does not seem to be my fault. It happens consistently, no matter which of their pages I reference.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust

This projected rewrite of Lotus Agenda is not going to happen.

"I'm starting to dabble with Twitter, and I can see how an Agenda-like interface to Twitter would be interesting." Really?

No further comment!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Luhmann's First Slip

Here is a picture of the first slip of paper in Luhmann's slip box:
Mindener Tageblatt
As well as I can make out, it reads:
1 Introduction
It must be attempted to explain the criteria and concepts as clearly as is possible so that their inadequacy and imperfection becomes clear. [?] to 1/4a/6
Apparently, there are two Zettel with the number 1, so this is only one of them.

I should perhaps explain that I have no deep or abiding interest in Luhmann's theory of systems itself. I find his approach to note-taking primarily interesting for historical and philosophical reasons.