Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keyboarding versus Handwriting, Quantified

Here is a summary of a study that tried to measure the difference between handwriting and keyboarding. The most surprising findings are right at the top:
  • "The computer writers took half as much time to write the first draft than pen and paper writers" (2).
  • "The computer writers had a more fragmented writing process than the pen and paper writers" (3).
The explanation seems simple. It is found in the fourth observation: "Computer writers made 80% of the revisions in their first draft, as compared to pen and paper writers, who made only 50% of revisions in the first draft."

In other words, a first draft on the computer is edited more than the one on paper. Whether that means it is more polished is, of course, a different story.

In any case, I think such studies are more useful for studying handwriting versus keyboarding than the anecdotal evidence provided by writers themselves—no matter how famous.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Notebook Zen

I cannot sleep. One of the reasons is that I had a tooth pulled today and "it" or rather the place where it was hurts. So I surfed the "Internets" and came across this. I liked it because it made me forget about the tooth.

No further comment!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Python Library to Use AutoHotkey in Python

PAHK enables the use of autohotkey scripts "in python in a fully threaded way. It also lets python interact with the script at runtime." It is perhaps most useful for tasks involving macros, hotkeys or windows functions (such as getclipboard data). It only works in windows.

I have not tried it yet.

Reviews of Note-Taking Software

Here is a site dedicated to reviewing note-taking software. I find the reviews helpful and to the point. While I would not give so much room to "Visual Appeal" as the reviewer does (and you might think other categories less important), the factors that go into reviewing are clearly identified and therefore useful in evaluating the review itself.

Highly recommended!

Devonthink Reconsidered

No, it is not me who is reconsidering Devonthink. Here is how a historian is using it now. But see also here.

The author is "still waiting for the perfect historian’s note-taking software. If only I could combine the advantages of a textbase like DT with the advantages of a relational database (and throw in a bibliographic database like Zotero while we’re at it)."

Well, I am just a historian of philosophy who thinks he has found a good enough textbase in ConnectedText.

As we all know, the perfect is the enemy of the good (enough). As for me "good enough" is good enough. Furthermore, I have the fairly well-founded view that the perfect is not compatible with "the crooked timber of humanity," anyway.[1]

1. Here is how someone else is using Devonthink. What makes my approach different from that of most others I read is that I take notes of the papers and books I read, and do not keep the original PDFs of secondary sources, but just refer to my notes. I rarely consult secondary sources again. If I have to do so, it means that I did not do the job right the first time.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My New Favorite Pen

I have written quite often on whether fountain pens and other hand-writing implements lead to different, or perhaps even better thinking than typewriters and keyboards. As anyone following the blog knows, I am extremely skeptical about such claims. This does not mean that I do not use fountain pens and very much enjoy using them. I do—and in a kind of self-experiment I have consciously made myself write every day in a notebook away from my computer desk.

It has led to more writing, but, I am sorry to say: it has not led to more brilliant ideas. (But then again, I may be prejudiced and thus just not notice ...).

However that may be, I discovered about two months ago a fountain pen that soon became my favorite. It is the L-Tech by Levenger.

Obviously this pen is inspired by the Rotring 600 (old style). Some people have even gone so far as to claim that Levenger bought the machine tools from Rotring to make them. But this is in all likelihood false. The L-Tech looks like the Rotring 600, if you do not look closely. But is is not only bigger and heavier, but also has a screw-on cap, something the Rotrings never had. While the 600 was hexagonal, the L-Tech has seven sides. Another difference is that the Levenger has a nib unit that can be exchanged with that of any other pen of their Truewriter line. It screws out easily just like the old Esterbrook pens and any new Waterman pen. Nor are you restricted to the Levenger nibs. Edison #5 (and similar nibs) also fit perfectly.

I do own a number of Rotrings 600s (as well as some Rotring Newtons) and I am extremely disappointed that Sanford (or Rubbermaid) discontinued this line.[1] However, I must say that the L-Tech is much better than the Rotring 600 which inspired it.[2]

Levenger also made a mechanical pencil in the same style, but apparently it had problems. This is not a problem as there are various manufacturers (like Retro 51) which do make copies. The weirdest one is from a company called "Redcircle" (i.e. "Rotring" in English). They are situated in China, and they may actually have made some the last Rotrings, as their products are hardly distinguishable from the original, as far as I can see. I own some of these as well (they cost a fraction of the Rotrings and are easily available on eBay. Sadly, however, they don't seem to make me smarter either. But they look smart, anyway.

1. Before they did this, they made some truly absurd "design" choices, however; and I surmise that they closed down all of the production of fountain pens and some of the production of mechanical pencils at least partially as a result of it.
2. For a review, see here, for instance.

Friday, November 8, 2013

On Wiki Organisation

From the VoodooPad Help File: "Try not to organize too heavily when you are initially adding information to VoodooPad. Start throwing things in around a loose framework. As your document grows you will want to spend a little more time cleaning things up. If you impose too much order too early, you may find it difficult to get started. Avoid having multiple documents when you start out. VoodooPad is great for keeping multiple areas of your life together in a single document for easy retrieval."

This is good advice for any wiki. A loose framework is better than tight organization—especially at first. A wiki is not a relational database. Nor is it an outliner. Structure should emerge, not be super-imposed at an early stage.

Voodoopad in Plausible Labs

If you believe Gus Mueller, Voodoopad is better off without him: "Development on VoodooPad is going to happen at a quicker pace now. And instead of a single developer focusing attention on VoodooPad, it now has a team.'

We'll see!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Outlines in ConnectedText—An Opinion

ConnectedText has evolved over the last seven years into a very versatile application that can do all sorts of things. Among these, outlining stands out. You have not only the outline view that allows you to write outlines, but also the TOC view that allows you to outline topics. So you can set it up as a two pane outliner in which the topics themselves can be outlined again.

This is why some people have begun to view it as an "outliner program," that is, as a program whose primary purpose it is to outline, i.e. arrange material in a hierarchical way or to create trees. But this is not its primary purpose.

ConnectedText primary purpose, as I see it, is to create a mesh or large sets of interlinked topics. It is designed to work like the Internet. In fact, it is primarily a personal wiki. And while wikis can be organized hierarchically, this is not the best way to use them.

Connectedtext's outliner seems to me designed as a higher level tool that allows you to organize material for a particular job, like writing a paper on the specific subject. It is very useful because it has access to all the material you may have collected in the wiki for several years. The German program which in some ways is similar to ConnectedTextZettelkasten calls such a function "Schreibtisch" or "writing desk."[1] It's an affordance that helps you to process the stuff in your collection of interlinked topics. It is thus built upon a network of topics created first.[2]

Now, none of this means that you cannot use the outliner as the primary application, just as you can use a butter knife like a primitive screw driver. But you should be aware that a butter knife was not designed to be either a screw driver or a carving knife.[3]

1. For an English description see here.
2. Historically speaking, the outline function came fairly late in the development of ConnectedText.
3. I learned this truth the hard way, after being punished as a kid for having vandalized some of our family silver by abusing it this way. The difference between silver knives and ConnectedText is, of course, that you cannot break the latter.