Sunday, January 27, 2013

Atlantis and ConnectedText

I have been a long-time user of both the Atlantis word processor and ConnectedText. A long time ago I tried whether Atlantis could open ConnectedText URLs and was disappointed that it did not seem to work Recently, speak: yesterday, I tried again, and much to my surprise it now works. Pasting a ConnectedText Url like “ct://Personal/Blogs%20to%20follow” as a hyperlink into Atlantis creates a link that you can name anything you want to. Clicking on it will open the appropriate page in ConnectedText.

One just has to make sure to check the Load/Save Option “Open hyperlinks to supported documents.”

So, now I can run Atlantis alongside ConnectedText pretty much like another ConnectedText window with rtf, doc, or docx support, having access to any topic in any project. I can, of course also open any rtf, doc, or docx document from ConnectedText (as those extensions are registered with Atlantis). It’s almost seamless. The answer to the question of how I could have missed this ability until now is, of course that I do most of my work in ConnectedText and only use the other formats when I need to communicate with others, that is, when I submit a paper, write a memo or distribute course outlines. For this reason I am not sure either how much use I will make of this setup. Time will tell.

Persistent Enlightenment

A new blog that promises to become one of my favorites!

Writers' Rooms

The Guardian has a delightful series on rooms in which writers write.[1] It invites voyeurism. My interests are, of course, strictly objective or professional, as I am strictly interested in the question whether the rooms or spaces in which people write determine what and how they write as much as their writing implements do. Some of my favorite rooms are Russell Hoban's (which is just as I would have expected it to be) and Helen Simpson's (which is just as unlike mine as Hoban's is). But the one writing place I have most affection for is this one:
It belonged to Arno Schmidt. The place at which I write is not quite as cramped, but it is rather small as well.

1. Turns out, I referred to the series once before. I am glad that it is consistent with what I think now.

The Power of the Pen

It's long been well known that the pen is mightier than the sword. It's less well known that it is mightier than any other writing implement. In fact, the readers of the blog know that I don't believe this claim is (can be) known because it is simply false. But here is more "evidence" to the contrary provided by Paul Theroux. He claims "writing by hand is part of my creative process. The speed at which I write with a pen seems to be the speed at which my imagination finds the best forms of words."

Whether you agree or disagree, it is, as they say, "a good read."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Highlighting versus Typing versus Handwriting

Highlighting is in the news. There are quite a few articles that report on a report that claims highlighting is useless. This is not new. Take the following blog entry:
The key point above is that meaning improves the reliability of your memory. As such, the simple act of highlighting does nothing more than make portions of your text book (or notes) yellow. The act of highlighting doesn’t change the memory process at all. Rather, it makes it easier for you notice that part of the text again in the future. If you don’t actually think about the passage you highlight though, then when you come across the yellow block in the future, you are unlikely to recall why you highlighted it.
I could not agree more. But then the autor goes on to claim that
You are much better off writing notes in a notebook than you are highlighting. Notice that I state “writing” rather than “typing” too. I chose that word deliberately. The reason I suggest writing, is that writing with a pen or pencil requires deliberate thought, and though it is a motor skill regulated by Procedural memory, when you are paraphrasing and shaping the words, you are actively using your semantic memory too, thus writing serves as a dual-coding exercise. Typing, on the other hand (ha, ha, no pun intended), is a skill that for most college students anyways, is automatic. It’s something you can do without deliberate thought, thus it is regulated primarily by Procedural memory. You can type and think of other things. So if you are reading and typing your “notes” you are not processing the material as deeply as you would be if you were hand-writing them. In short, highlighting and typing are time-savers, but not memory-improvers. If your aim is recall, then stick with an old-fashioned pen or pencil.
It would be interesting to know whether there are any empirical studies supporting the claim that handwriting is better than typing. If they are, they are not mentioned here. But I doubt a priori that there is a difference between the "motor skill" of writing with pen or pencil or the motor skill of typing. Both are automatic (in so far as they are motor-skills) and both of them require procedural thought or procedural memory in so far as they are not. It's true: "You can type and think of other things." But it's also true that you can write, or drive, or ... Substitute what you like ... And think of other things. Mind you, it may well be that there are individual differences. I just don think they are as fundamental as this blog article suggests they are.

Just as David Foster Wallace may have thought he had better (or different) ideas while handwriting, but not really have had any ideas he would not have had by working with a computer, some people may think they remember better when they write their notes by hand.

If your aim is recall, repetition is your friend. Go over the notes, review them, ask questions about them, use them in arguments, connect them up with other notes, index them, etc., etc. Active engagement at more than one occasion is key. Whether handwritten or typed, notes that have no function will soon be forgotten.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mellel Lite

Mellel Lite is available at the Apple App store for $4.99. It does everything I want to do with a word processor. In fact, I have a hard time figuring out what it cannot do that the full version of Mellel can do. (It seems that it cannot put endnotes at the end of chapters, but is restricted to putting it at the end of documents, but I am not sure.) The help file of Mellel Lite seems identical to that of the full version.

In any case, it is a good deal at the introductory price. It's supposed to go up to $19.95.

I also own the full version, but uninstalled it from my system some time ago. It's probably not the best $5.00 I ever spent, but I have a feeling it isn't the worst either. I like the fact that it is a relatively "light" and simple app. I have played less than an hour with it, but I like it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


TextDrop is a browser-based text editor for Dropbox. It was recently reviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education which praises its similarities to nValt. Its conclusion: "At $10, TextDrop was a steal. At nearly $30, it still offers good value for money, especially for people who write on locked-down computers."

I am not sure this is true, especially since there is a free application, called send to dropox that allows you to send attachments to Dropbox. I believe TextDrop occupies such a small niche and costs so much that it will not survive for long. As always, I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Oxbridge Notes: Sign of the Times?

Oxbridge Notes is a service that buys and sells notes and essays to students. As they say: "Oxbridge Notes connects first class students at A-Level, undergraduate, postgraduate and professional levels, allowing them to buy and sell essays, sample answers and notes."

They give the impression that all you need is money. Effort is unnecessary. One Oxford student is quoted as saying: "The best place to start your readings as you can build a basic infrastructure out of them, rather than blindly dive into pages and pages.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with building a "basic infrastructure out of" your notes. "Blindly" diving into reading is counter productive. But there is everything wrong with thinking that someone else's notes will help you learn and that using someone else's essays to fulfill your requirements is going to make you a better person.

Comparing Pandoc and Multimarkdown

There is a very useful comparison of the different features of these minimal markup languages here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Benjamin on Zettelkasten or Card Index

Walter Benjamin, the famous literary critic, claimed: "The card index marks the conquest of three-dimensional writing, and so presents an astonishing counterpoint to the three-dimensionality of script in its original form as rune or knot notation. (And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index.)" In other words, "all is note," or perhaps better: "all that matters is note."[1] I think both versions are wrong.

Benjamin called his own writing "verzettelte Schreiberei" or disjointed scribbling or scrappy paperwork.

1. Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstraße. In Gesammelte Schriften IV, 1. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1972), pp. 84-148, 103.

Of Notes and Books

Thanks to a reader of one of my latest entries, I was alerted to Andrew Piper's Book Was There. I have not yet read it, but I have poked around and found that he has a blog of the same title on (here). It shows that he shares some of my interests. This let me to to the following discussion Notes and books and Piper's own discussion of the publication of The Original of Laura which he takes to be "a timely reminder of the tangled history of the relationship between the book and the note." He takes Arno Schmidt's Zettelkasten as another example of notes, saying: "I think it is fair to say that for many of us much of our note-taking is done on the same medium as our book writing – and here is where our current moment strikes me as crucially different – and our book reading. As we gradually move to a bookish world that is no longer exclusively defined by the printed book (if it ever was), my question is what happens to this lost sense of metamorphosis surrounding composition – when “all is note” we might say?"

I think he is very much mistaken. Neither Nabokov's notecards nor Schmidt's Zettelkasten are notes. They are manuscripts in the form of slips or, in German, Zettel. They are in other words Zettelmanuskripte which were not an uncommon form to write in German (and other languages) before the advent of the computer. Such manuscripts consisting of ordered slips are more ways of writing, than ways of note-taking.

This is not to say that writing and note-taking are radically different activities. They are not! But none of this goes to show that "all is note." On the contrary. More about this in future instalments.

By the way, I have come to the conclusion over the last five years that Luhmann's Zettelkasten is also more of a manuscript than a collection of notes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


This is the title of an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that reports on a "major" conference on note-taking that took place in Cambridge not long ago. It does not contain anything that a regular reader of this blog would not have known already. It also perpetuates some falsehoods about Placcius, in particular.[1]

1. See this entry, for comparison.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Faulkner's Writing Wall and Scrivener's Corkboard

Life Magazine published on August 9, 1954 a feature on the Faulkner Writing Wall that is interesting.

For his novel A Fable, Faulkner pasted an outline on the wall. On his writing table he had corresponding stacks of manuscript pages. Talk about analog non-linear writing![1]

1. The writing wall is mentioned by Bruce in Page Fright without reference.

Sidney Hook's Pressure

I am still looking at Page Fright, and there is this gem on p. 58: "American philosopher Sidney Hook had to weigh his words at the end of a pen. 'The gravity of my words seems to me in correlation with the pressure I put on my pen, he said, "when I type something, I always feel it's superficial because it seems to come off the top of my mind.'"

Seems to me, either he never put enough pressure on his pen, or, more likely, the pressure he put on his pen had nothing to do with the gravity of his words. (This is an inclusive "or," even though preceded by an "either.") The feeling he had while typing was justified, and not just for what he typed.

A Wonderful Way to Write?

Apparently, L. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis continued to use dip pens (or steel nibs) long after most people had given them up. Douglas Gresham, the stepson of Lewis, apparently observed his stepfather writing five words, pausing to think, dipping, writing another five words, pausing and dipping. He thought this was a "wonderful way to write," if you have the patience.[1]

Having had to write with one of these things, I disagree. It was awful Either there was too much ink on the nib or too little. Dripping was a constant danger and thinking hindered by the struggle with the nib. But perhaps it was all the fault of the cheap ink we had to use in school (and of course the lack of having the practice of forty years). Whatever else may be said of steel nibs, they are not good for note-taking, even if Robert Graves wrote 140 books this way.

1. See Harry Bruce, Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (Toronto: McClelland, 2009), p. 37 (I have only consulted the Google preview).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kierkegaard on Steel Nibs

For centuries, people wrote with goose quills, high maintenance items that constantly had to cut back because their edges frayed after they had been used for some time. During the early nineteenth century, goose quills were replaced by steel nibs and pen holders. It appears that Kierkegaard made the switch from quills to steel nib around 1835.[1]

In his one and only play "The Battle Between the Old and the New Soap-Cellars" of 1838, he included a scene in which one character, Wadt, says to the other, Hurryson: "But as far as style and expression are concerned, there is always something that grates. Your pen is not soft enough, if I must say so." Hurryson knows the reason right away: "Then you think it's because I use steel pens." He is right, of course, and Wadt re-assures him that "there is nothing that corrupts the hand and the heart as does the steel pen. What will become of love letters when they are to be written with steel." Hurryson retorts that it is "of profound practical significance that steel has been transferred from the lance and the spear to the pen," that we are now men and must "arm ourselves with steel gauntlets." Anyone who does not see this lacks high-minded feelings. Wadt has "a soul like a goose quill's."

Kierkegaard's satire seems to address a not infrequent objection to the new technology. It seems to me the right sort of response to this kind of hankering for the past. The idea that a change in writing instruments crudely determines the writer and what he writes is ridiculous. It's just as ridiculous when it concerns the change from had writing to the typewriter or from the typewriter to the computer—or so I would claim.[2]

1. Steel pens were apparently not cheap. A pen holder and twelve steel nibs cost one Rixdollar. Nor did the early steel nibs last long, as they wore out and corroded from the acidity of the ink. For all this, see 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), p. 169f.
2. It's probably entirely irrelevant, but I did learn how to write first with a chalk board (first grade) and then pencils (second grade) and finally graduated to pen holder and steel nib (third or fourth grade). Later, I used Pelican pens.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Jonathan Edwards made his own paper notebooks by sewing or stitching papers together. This method is still available. You can even bind your own notebooks, if you are so inclined.

But I recently came across a system that allows you to do this in a much more effective way. It's called Atoma and consists of plastic rings with protruding etches and paper with special (t-shaped) holes. It looks interesting, and if I did not already have more paper notebooks than I am likely to fill in a life-time, I would be interested.

One drawback: the original version of the system cannot be bought in the U.S. But there are alternatives, the Myndology® notebook system (available at Amazon), Levenger Circa, and Arc by Staples, just to name some. So, if you have the need to make your own paper notebooks, you can easily satisfy it.

The system is not without its critics, however. Many people complain that the pages come loose and fall out after repeated use. Edwards complained about this problem in his system as well. But it just won't happen with electronic notebooks.

Carlyle on Tools

Thomas Carlyle wrote: "Man is a Tool-using Animal; weak in himself, and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half-square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, lest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load to him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft, like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use tools, can devise tools; with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; he kneads glowing iron, as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unwearying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all."

This holds for note-taking as well—or so I believe. In this spirit, we start another year.{1]

Oh, and another one my father used to impress on me (in German, of course): "It's a poor workman who blames his tools." Indeed, any true artisan takes pride in the tools she/he uses. This does not, of course, mean that you look for the best possible too for the job. That's why you hear perhaps disproportionally much about ConnectedText here.

1. This thought is not original with Carlyle. See Bacon on Instruments of the Mind.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Got this today:
NEO 2 now only $119!
I wanted you to be among the first to know about our lowest price ever on the versatile NEO 2—now only $119!
NEO 2 is the ultimate low-cost, go anywhere writing tool that’s affordable, flexible, and so simple to use.
Take a few moments to view key features and see why NEO 2 is perfect for all your writing needs. Then, for more information, or to order, give me a call at (866) 558-8452 or email
If you’ve considered NEO 2 in the past, now is the time to act. You won’t find more value for less anywhere! I look forward to hearing from you.
On the whole, I tend to agree. $119 is a good price, considering how much it used to cost.[1] Could it be still cheaper? I suppose so. Is the difference between the Neo and the Neo 2 enough for me to go for the Neo 2? Not really. But if you don't have any Neo, I would recommend it.

1. See previous posts on the Neo here. It used to be $199.


Look at this resolution for the new year.

I suffer from the same syndrome and endorse point six. There are so few innocent pleasures left, and this is one of them.