Saturday, December 29, 2012

On My Reading List

Written Images: Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals, Notebooks, Booklets, Sheets, Scraps, and Slips of Paper. Ed. Niels Jørgeb Cappelørn, Joakim Garff, Johnny Kondrup. Transl. Bruce H. Kirmmse (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2003)

Even though, or perhaps better: just because Kierkegaard wrote in 1843: "After my death no one will find even the least bit of information in my papers (this is my consolation) about what has really filled my life; no one will find that which is written in the core of my being that explains everything, and which often makes what the world would call trifles into exceedingly important events to me, and which I, too, view as insignificance, if I remove the secret note that explains this."[1]

No one knows what's "written in the core" of anyone's being. Nothing would explain everything. Kierkegaard himself did not know it either. I suspect that, if it could be found, it would turn out to be just as boring as the "trifles" that make events "exceedingly important" to us. In 1847 he wrote: "Only when I produce do I feel well. Then I forget all the unpleasantness[.] of life, all sufferings, then I am in my thoughts and happy." If there were a secret, it would be found in his "productions."

All the best for the New Year!

1. See The Secret Note See also Kierkegaard's Writing Desk.

All My Journals

I just received this by e-mail:
Are you thinking of keeping a journal in 2013? Would you like to look back over all those memories from times past, read what you were thinking five or ten years ago?
Sounds great, but how many New Year's Resolutions last beyond January? You forget to write something down. Your word processor is awkward to use as a daily journal. One excuse leads to another and before you know it, it's the end of June and you haven't written an entry since January.
That's where All My Journals comes in.
Simple, clutter free journal software for Windows, from the makers of PageFour. You create as many journals as you wish, and they're always there, a click away.
Download it here and try it out >>
All My Journals opens at today's date so you can get typing straight away. No files, no folders, no frustrations. It takes care of the days, months and years for you, and best of all, you can set a password so that your private thoughts stay private.
We're running a 25% Off offer until January 12th.
So, if you were thinking of keeping a journal this year, and if you appreciate software that does one thing really well, give All My Journals a try.
A fully featured, 15 day trial is available to download, and you have until January 12th to take advantage of the discount.
Happy New Year. Darren Devitt Bad Wolf Software
It looks interesting, and I will try (though I doubt it will persuade me to move my journal from ConnectedText.

There are two versions: one free, the other paid. The paid version will allow you to keep more than one journal. If you download the paid version, it will devolve into the free version after 15 days.

On Germinant Thoughts and Outlines

The Growing of Sermons is in principle not different from the growing of poetry—at least if you believe the Methodist Review of September 1907 (vol. 89). You need "the right sort of seed," cultivated the right way. These seeds consist of "truth which he gathers and pigeon-holes away in his brain" so that it "actually becomes a part of himself, so that when it springs forth at some future time it is a flower bearing the fragrance of life" (p. 728). In order that this may happen:
Have upon your study table, always accessible, a good-sized substantially bound blank book. whenever a germinant thought comes seize your pen and write it down. Such thoughts will come out of your special course of literary reading, out of your cursory scanning of current fiction, even out of the five-minute glance given to the morning paper, out of nowhere and from manywhere (p. 728).
Such "thought-compelling suggestions" may be foreign to the sermon a minister may write, but they may serve as inspiration nevertheless.

This is not the end of the advice:
Have also a special vest-pocket notebook and let nothing escape you. Besides your notebooks have a generous file of long narrow cards. Place on the end of the card in plain letters the name of any subject on which you find any thought worth recurring to in any book you read. Jot down the name or the initial of the volume, together with the page; and if the book is your own, mark the line or paragraph. Gradually your cards will get heads, and you can arrange them so that all the heads can be seen at a glance. You can pick out any subject you desire, either for adding new memoranda or finding something needed on that particular theme. Everywhere, and all the time, gather and store up material (pp. 728f.)
The mere collection of the material will enrich the mind and give "increased facility."

Scissors for clipping papers are also essential. To store these, one need no expensive cabinets: an arrangement "of large envelopes ... will meet every requirement."

When time comes to write the sermon, "proceed to make a rough draught of an outline" (p. 733). If you must write the last part of the sermon, before the first is 'perfectly sketched, by all means do so. "Be not bound by any hard-and-fast system of rules' for writing. "Be yourself. Work in your own harness. Avoid coming inot bondage to any one method of working," but don't be different from anybody else "for the sake of singularity" either (p. 734).

Talk about non-linear writing and note-taking! The advice is just as valid as it was a hundred years ago, even though "good-sized substantially bound blank" books and "special vest-pocket books" may no longer be so necessary and electronic equivalents may have taken their place. But let's remember that they are equivalents and not something radically new. They bring new affordances, but they are also "more of the same."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Growly Write

Bean, a simple and elegant word processor for OS X is no longer developed. In other words, it's a "has been"—not my pun. But there is another word processor that can do just as much and perhaps more. It's called Growly Write. Growly Write does a lot: "multiple columns, chapters with different layouts, pictures that flow with the text or pictures that text wraps around, drop caps, tables, lists, links within a document or to web pages, borders simple and complex, and a complete toolkit of text formats. But everything is easy to find."

But it does not do footnotes (just as Beans didn't). Too bad. They include only features "that most people use every day." On the other hand, they are "getting many requests from students." I would suppose that most of those need footnotes (and that, if they listen to them, they should at least consider the inclusion of this feature. But who am I to ask for this?

I found out about the program here, and I fully agree with the assessment.

Growlybird software offers other interesting applications, like "Growly Notes," which seems to be a OneNote clone for OS X.

The applications are free!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Frye's Notebooks

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) was the most influential Canadian scholar and literary critic during the twentieth century. He kept notebooks pretty much all of his life. About 75 of them have survived. Some of these have been published. It's interesting why he kept them. He claimed:
I keep notebooks because all my writing is a translation into a narrative sequence of things that come to me aphoristically.
All my work consists in translating involuntarily acquired aphorisms into a pattern of continuity. The former has something to do with listening for a Word, the ear being the involuntary sense, the latter with the spread-out performance of the eye.
The main difficulty in my writing, as I've often said, is in translating discontinuous aphorisms into continuous argument. Continuity, in writing as in physics, is probabilistic, and every sequence is a choice among possibilities. Invariable sequence is illusory, & especially in logic, where, just as q is always by u, so 'rigor' is always followed by 'mortis.'[1]
He thought that the fragmentation in knowledge and experience he experienced was characteristic of the new age. It appears to me, however, that he read just too much Jung.

1. Cited according to David Boyd and Imre Saluszinsky, Rereading Frye. The Published and Unpublished Works (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), pp. 10, 18.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Notebooks

Jonathan Edwards had many types of notebooks. Some of them were “Miscellanies,” others substantive notebooks were “Notes on Scripture,” the “Blank Bible,” and “Faith.” In "these he recorded and developed his ideas."[1] But he also had notebooks for planning his life and studies. Kimnach and Minkema call these his “regulatory” notebooks. They contain schedules, lists, memoranda, outlines, and materials for specific projects. "When drafting a major treatise," also constructed "a series of working notebooks to which he committed references, transitions, reminders, even potential chapter titles."

Since paper was expensive, he used and re-used every scrap that became available. Most interestingly, however, he made his own notebooks, "not only to save expense but because it allowed for flexibility of size and arrangement. Edwards’s method, as was common for the time, was stab sewing, in which a needle and thread would be drawn through the assembled pages at the margin, usually in three to five holes, depending on the size of the paper, and knotted at an end hole. Sometimes, perhaps because the sheets were not bound tightly enough or the first stitching had become loose, he added a new set of stitches through different holes. He ran the thread through the holes, connecting them, so that the thread paralleled the left edge of the paper, several millimeters from that edge."[3} he also made the covers of stiffer paper, sometimes adorned with pictures and wallpaper. His notebooks usually had around 98 pages, which he covered with writing on both sides.

Edwards' practice was not at all unusual in eighteenth century New England. Nor was it restricted to New England. European students and scholars used essentially the same technique. What makes Edwards' notebook method special is that he made so many and systematically cross-referenced them. However, even at that, he was not unique. The German writer Jean Paul Richter, who went by "Jean Paul," (1763-1825) outdid him in this by several orders of magnitude.

1. Wilson H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study." The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012), pp. 683-670, 713.
2. Ibid.
3. Kimnach and Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work," pp. 699f.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Most Important Bible

Jonathan Edwards owned a quarto volume made up of blank pages which were interleaved with an octavo King James Bible. Each blank page was "divided into two columns by a red line so that the page offered a space corresponding to the double-columned Bible page facing it." In these pages Edwards developed his reflections, verse by verse."[1]

Like many eighteenth-century thinkers, Edwards thought, pen in hand:
My method of study, from my first beginning the work of the ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way, to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to my utmost, when anything in reading, meditation or conversation, has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point. Thus penning what appeared to me my best thoughts, on innumerable subjects for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studies in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it. The further I traveled in this way, the more and wider the field opened, which has occasioned my laying out many things, in my mind, to do in this manner.[2]
Like other intellectuals in the eighteenth century, he used an interleaved copy of a text central in his profession. For Edwards this was the Bible, for Immanuel Kant, who followed the same practice, it was Baumgarten's Metaphysica for his reflections on metaphysics that ultimately led to the Critique of Pure Reason of 1781. For other subjects, he used interleaved copies of other works by Baumgarten and others.[3] But he did not use separate notebooks to the extent Edwards did.

1. Wilson H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study." The William and Mary Quarterly 69 (2012), pp. 683-670, 713.
2. Quoted in accordance with Kimach and Minkema, "The Material and Social Practices," p. 684.
3. See also Blumenbach's system on this blog.

Good Advice for Writers

See here; "Thinking in modular terms also helps you to break down the task into manageable component parts. “Writing a book” sounds intimidating, but a book is just the collective product of many days of writing a few dozen, or a few hundred, words. Dividing the project up into chunks allows you to have achievable goals. And anyway, it’s only once you have made all the modules and thought about them for a while that you can see how they fit together."

Jacobs says he uses BBEdit to write because it "allows me to create Projects from multiple files, do search-and-replace across multiple files, “fold” sections of text, view in split screens, and so on and so on." I have seen BBEdit praised many times before but never felt the need to try it. Perhaps I should, even though I did use TextWrangler on and off!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cross Writing

I came across this today (no pun intended): Cross writing as a technique to save paper. It was apparently used frequently in the nineteenth century to save paper or postage. If you believe some of the authors, it is easier to read than one might think.

Charles Darwin used it in his letters as well as in his notes. Here is one example:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

ConnectedText and Evernote

I have recently given up on Simplenote and, as a result, on nValt which I used mainly with Simplenote. To be sure, I have ported the notes to Dropbox and I could use nValt, if I wanted to. It's just that I now find Evernote more convenient for the temporary storage of notes taken on the road.

As I said before, Evernote plays nice with ConnectedText. You can call up ConnectedText topics by the URLs in Evernote and Evernote notes by their note links in ConnectedText. It is also easy to export Evernote notes to html which can easily be imported into ConnectedText.

This seems to be—at least for now—the optimal solution for the complementary needs of temporary and permanent storage of notes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Squarespace Note

Squarespace Note is available for the iPhone. It allows you to "your notes with e-mail, Squarespace, Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter, and more." In other words, it "is a passthrough application. Your notes will actually be stored and managed in the endpoint services you connect to this application. You can use the recorded notes list in Squarespace Note for checking the send status of previously sent notes."

It is an interesting application for which I have no use, even though I utilize Evernote and Dropbox, having given up completely on Simplenote. (I had a premium account, but I did not renew it because it no longer reliably syncs with nValt.)

What I have come to appreciate about Evernote recently is that it plays very nice with ConnectedText. ConnectedText takes URL's from this application and it allows you to open up ConnectedText topics by means of URL's as well.[1]

1. See also here.

Scrivener for Windows Compared to Scrivener for the Mac

See this review by David Hewson. Be sure to look at the comments too.

I bought Scrivener for the Mac some time ago and have "fooled" with it, but it has not, for me, turned out to be a compelling alternative to ConnectedText.

Hewson claims: "The Windows app looks a bit old-fashioned to me, especially when you set it against Microsoft’s new, minimalist version of Word." That leaves me flabbergasted. I have used Word since version 2. All kinds of words come to mind for this version. "Minimalist" is not one of them.[1] And this is not just because of the abominable "ribbon."

1. See also this explanation as to why he is using MS-OneNote and MS-Word now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Perfect Pencil

Faber Castell sells something called "the perfect pencil". As we all know, perfect tools lead to perfect notes, just as a $240.00 pen leads to better writing than a $4.95 pen.

This, of course, is nonsense, though the emphasis on reviewing and evaluating note-taking equipment of any sort, may lead one to the belief that there is a transitive relationship between the "quality" of the equipment we use and the quality of the notes. There is no such relation. Some of the best results have been achieved with the crummiest equipment or the crummiest software.

While tools are not unimportant, they are not as important as the person who uses them. Let's not forget that!