Monday, December 29, 2014

Card Files (or Zettelkästen) and Databases

As this topic has come up in the comments to the last blog post, I would like to say a bit about the relation of card files or Zettelkästen and Databases. It is often claimed that databases represent the generalization of a card index. This is especially so for index cards that are assigned a unique identifier. Just look at this explanation from a Website that represents an Introduction to Databases:
A database is structured collection of data. Thus, card indices, printed catalogues of archaeological artefacts and telephone directories are all examples of databases. Databases may be stored on a computer and examined using a program. These programs are often called `databases', but more strictly are database management systems (DMS). Just as a card index or catalogue has to be constructed carefully in order to be useful, so must a database on a computer. Similarly, just as there are many ways that a printed catalogue can be organised, there are many ways, or models, by which a computerised database may be organised. One of the most common and powerful models is the `relational' model (discussed below), and programs which use this model are known as relational database management systems (RDMS).

Computer-based databases are usually organised into one or more tables. A table stores data in a format similar to a published table and consists of a series of rows and columns. To carry the analogy further, just as a published table will have a title at the top of each column, so each column in a database table will have a name, often called a field name. The term field is often used instead of column. Each row in a table will represent one example of the type of object about which data has been collected. ...

One advantage of computer-based tables is that they can be presented on screen in a variety of orders, formats, or according to certain criteria, all the towns in Hertfordshire, or all towns with a cathedral.
There is nothing that links such a structured collection of data" essentially to paper, even if some of the first databases, like Luhmann's Zettelkasten, were paper-based. Luhmann himself said late in his life, he would have used an electronic version for his system, if it had been around when he first started his Zettelkasten.

On the other hand, it is possible to design a skeuomorphic version of a database. Microsoft's "cardfile" in early versions of Windows did this.

AZZ Cardfile is a lot less skeuomorphic. And it appears to me that DEVONthink is even less so. Using a unique identifiers as the titles od notes does not change this fact. And to use these in wiki-like links moves them even farther away from the paper-model—or so I believe.

Autolinks in DEVONthink à la Luhmann

In one of my last posts I pointed out that autolinks have the problem that they may lead to many unwanted links. This can be avoided, if you make all the title of the notes unique. Luhmann proposed a way to do this in "How to Communicate with Zettelkästen," proposing an organisation by numbers. "Every slip would receive a number, independently of the information on it, starting with 1, and potentially continuing to infinity. Since his slips were relatively small (slightly larger than 5 x 8 cards, or Din-A 6, to be precise), he often had to continue on other slips the information or train of thought started on one slip. In this way, he would end up with Numbers like 1/1 and 1/2 and 1/3 etc. He wrote these numbers in black ink at the top of the slip, so that they could easily be seen when a slip was removed and then put back in the file.

Apart from such linear continuations of topics on different slips, Luhmann also introduced a notation for branchings of topics. Thus, when he felt that a certain term needed to be further discussed or the information about it needed to be supplemented, he would begin a new slip that addded a letter, like a, b, or c to the number. So, a branching from slip 1/6 could have branches like 1/6a or 1/6b, up to 1/6z. These branching connections were marked by red numbers within the text, close to the place that needed further explanation or information. Since any of these branches might require further continuations, he also had many slips of the form 1/6a1, 1/6a2, etc. And, of course, any of these continuations can be branched again, so he could end up with such a number as:

21/3d26g53 for -- who else? -- Habermas."[1]

It is unlikely that "21/3d26g53" will occur anywhere else than in a title for a specific note. "1", "2", "3" will, but that problem can easily be solved by adding a letter to the end or the beginning of all the titles, like "21/3d26g53-l", "1-l", "2—l", etc. This would make for a rather faithful electronic reconstruction of his Zettelkasten, very much like a described it here.

Groups and tags would allow greater control over how the information is represented, of course. While one still has to be careful about not accidentally renaming topics, this approach has promise!

1. See my Luhmann's Zettelkasten for more.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Review of the Rotring 900 Fountain Pen

The Rotring 900 is an interesting pen. Here is a short but informative review of it.

I do not agree to the claim that it is different from other Rotring pens in that is not scratchy. I have yet to use a Rotring pen of any sort that is scratchy. To be sure, all of them are stiff, but that does not translate into scratchy in my experience.

It might also be interesting to point out that the Rotring Altro is a plastic copy or plastic "version" of the 900.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Trunk Notes Early Access Build

Trunk Notes Early Access Build is the OS X version of the popular personal wiki software for iOS. It dates from July 2012. It does not seem to have been updated since then. That is too bad.

It's also regrettable that it is not recommended that it be used in conjunction with the portable version. But it does work.

Autolinks in DEVONthink

As I have said many times before, I like free links in note-taking applications. In other words, if you want to create a link to another note or article, you put "[[" "]]" around a word or phrase, like, for example "[[Bertrand Russell]]". This approach allows you have control over what will become a link. Many wikis work that way, but there are also such applications as MS-OneNote, Notational Velocity, and nVALT that allow you to do this.

The second best method may be auto-linking as it is found in applications that transform any word or phrase into a link, if there is already a topic or file that has the expression as a title.[1] It's very convenient, though sometimes you may not want a link. Take the word "problem" for example. You may not want every occurrence of "problem" in every file or topic to link to the specific problem discussed in the topic problem. This happens more often than you might think, but perhaps you would not be bothered by it. I would be, as I like more control over my knowledge base.

Another thing is that while it is easy to link to existing pages, creating new pages is less easy. DEVONthink seems to make this process as easy as it is possible. It allows you to select a word or phrase, copy it (⌘ C), and then open a new note "with clipboard" (⌘ N). You then have to manually go to the newly created topic. I am sure this process can be automated and reduced to one key press with TextExpander and AppleScript. Perhaps a template could also be devised. So, it might in the end be just as easy as enclosing an expression in double brackets.

The expression cannot be enclosed in any kind of bracket, as this makes linking unreliable. It is also important that the words or phrases are in the same case as the file. And there may be other problems with punctuation that I have not yet discovered. Another problem is that when you rename the note or article, the link will be broken. In a true wiki, the expressions linking to it would be updated.

Still, the automatic links do impart a rudimentary wiki functionality to DEVONthink. But, at least as far as I can see now, there is no capability of automatic back links in DEVONthink (or rather inDEVONnote, for which I have a license). And this makes a more extensive use less attractive for me than it would otherwise be. But others might feel differently about this—especially because it allows notes in RTF and Text format (and it is largely WYSIWYG).

1. I am grateful to a reader of this blog who pointed out this capability in a comment to Note Connections: "DevonThink will automatically create links when you type in the titles of other pages. You just have to turn on the WikiLinks option under Preferences > Editing (and click the button for "Names and Aliases"). This works on plain text as well as rtf documents." I am sure there are other things I have overlooked, and I would welcome any comments that set me straight.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Slow Watch?

A watch that is slow is not a good thing. It's unreliable. This shortcoming does not prevent one company to advertise its watch as the the slow watch. What is it? A one-handed watch.

I have to admit that I have a fascination for one-handed watches that I can't explain even to myself. I own three of them. The best is an UNO from Botta Design. It's my favorite:

The other two are cheaper—not to say "cheap," namely a "Bauhaus" of questionable heritage and a "Design Jens Ole Miang" with a Japanese movement. Since I "collect" watches, I am tempted by the "Slow Watch." But I am resisting—largely because of the advertisement: "The great thing is that the 24-hour dial allows you to see the entire day in one view. This fundamentally changes the way you look at your watch and it will give you a much better consciousness about the progression of your day. You will realize that the dial does not show a logo as we believe a great product does not need to show any visible branding to be recognized. A unique design language should do the job."

This is pretentious, and I hate nothing more than pretentiousness. Let me make this perfectly clear: a one-handed watch with a twenty-four hour display does not fundamentally change the way you look at your day. It does change the way you look at your watch simply because it is more difficult to discern the precise time. Looking at it quickly you can easily see whether the time is closer to 14:15 or 14:30, but you need to look at it rather closely to see whether it is 14:20 or 14:25; and you will never be able to be very precise about anything that falls within the five-minute increments. The "Slow Watch" is less useful, as its dial has only fifteen-minute increments.

It's no accident that one-dial watches almost disappeared in the early 18th century and are an acquired taste today. I call these watches my "retirement watches" because I believe that when I retire (soon), I will not be driven as much by the precise clock time as I am now. But I do not use this watch on teaching days. I also like the retro design of these. I wonder whether Heidegger, who despised "clock time," would have worn one of these. I'd like to think he wouldn't because that makes them more attractive to me.

They are available at Amazon and the prices start at $250.00. I hope you realize that this is not an advertisement in any way.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Note Connections

I have already referred to Christian Tietze's blog on the "Zettelkasten" method several times. I recently came across this: DEVONthink as a Zettelkasten Note Archive. It discusses Tietze's four criteria for evaluating software that emulates a slip box. They are (1) The ease of note retrieval, (2) the ease of note creation, (3) "which mechanisms does the app support to create connections?" and (4) the ability of exporting data with relative ease. I have no problem with (1) about note retrieval, or (4) about data retrieval. I heartily endorse (2): Note creation: does it take many clicks or keystrokes to create a new ... note? But I have serious problems with (3) or the downplaying the importance of note connections.
Note connections: which mechanisms does the app support to create connections? I’m leaving this point pretty vague intentionally. I know of various ways different applications deal with this problem. Also, I’m going to cheat a bit: if full-text search works, manually linking notes will work, too: just put the target’s identifier somewhere, copy it, search for the identifier, and open the resulting note.
Not only is the mechanism for note connection intimately connected with the ease with which we can create a note, but full-text search seems to me a lame alternative for the direct linking of notes. In fact, as I have made clear earlier, I don't even think that indirect linking by means of tags can substitute for direct linking. And, yes, the decision to link should be manual, based on the best judgment of the person who maintains the note base.[1] The kind of fortuitous connection described by Luhamann and others crucially depends on the architecture of the link-structure. It may be largely arbitrary in the end, but it is an arbirtrariness that is connected with a definite "partner in communication" or maintainer of the note base and it takes place within a definite context or research project.[12 It is not the Internet.[3]

1. This is also why I don't use Devonthink—a program that I otherwise admire. I even own Devonnote, but I don't really use it. Just listen to this: "If you are willing to use RTF-files, DEVONthink also offers clickable links. Just right-click (or Ctrl-click) the file you want a link to, select “Copy Item Link” and paste it into your document (that’s about 4 or 5 clicks in total)." That is four clicks too many. I would insist on free links that allow me to link directly by enclosing the word or phrase in double square brackets.
But it gets worse: "If you use plain text files instead, here’s what you could do: Copy the link as described above and paste it into your note. Then highlight the link, right-click it, and click “Open URL”. It will now open a new window of your linked file." And "here is a hidden preference to show mmd-files automatically in HTML Preview mode, so the links I set are instantly clickable. This gives DEVONthink a wiki-like feeling to it, but I need an additional mouse-click or keystroke to make my mmd-files editable, so this solution isn’t for everyone."
I consider a "wiki-like feeling" to be just as unsatisfying as a "love-like feeling." In other words, I want the real thing, if at all possible.

2. I was tempted to say "It is precisely not the Internet". But that is the kind of nonsense rampant among continental philosophers of some sort. Nothing is "precisely not" something else. The complement of any term is what Kant called an "infinite judgment."

3. The allusions are of course to Luhmann. The two relevant articles in English translation can be found here and here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Medieval Notepads

Here is a fascinating post on how people used the margins of books for notes.[1] The most common other note-taking implement was the wax tablet, of course.

But slips of parchment (left overs from cuting the pages for books) were also used Apparently there was a guide book called De discipline scholarum "for students and teachers at the University of Paris" that explained "how a student should bring such slips of parchment to class for taking notes." It dates from 1230.

I wish I knew more about the medieval practices.

1. See also here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Chapters as Organizing Principles

The first authors who wrote in chapters were not storytellers. They were compilers of knowledge, either utilitarian or speculative, who used chapters as a way of organizing large miscellanies. Cato the Elder’s “De Agri Cultura” (“On Farming”), from the second century B.C.E., was organized in numbered units with titles; Pliny the Elder’s great compilation of Roman science, “Naturalis Historia” (“Natural History”), from the first century C.E., came with a summarium of topics similar to a modern table of contents; Aulus Gellius, a collector of legal and linguistic arcana in the second century C.E., divided his “Noctes Atticae” (“Attic Nights”) into “capita” with long descriptive titles.* These chapters, unlike the “books” of epic poetry, were what we would now call finding aids: devices for quickly locating specific material in long texts that were not meant to be read straight through.
I am not sure whether this is true, but it is interesting.

For more, see this article in the New Yorker.

It's amazing to me how recent are such things as spaces between words, chapters, alphabetization of materials, and other organizational principles that characterize the modern books really are. Perhaps there are some fundamental ordering principles that we overlook in ancient texts. In any case, the transition from oral organization to mere bookishness was more gradual than we realize.

Is the Pen "a Weapon for Readers"?

It is, if you believe Tim Parks or accept his arguments in the New York Review of Books blog. He goes so far as to claim that reading pen in hand might not be the "single alteration in people’s behavior [that] might best improve the lot of mankind" but he "firmly believe[s] such a simple development would bring huge benefits."

I am not so sure, but have no objection if people use their own books and not the library copies, as I think I said before.

An interesting article!

Enough said!


I have been using a minimalist to do program for a while. It's called TodoTextMac. A fuller description is found here. If you would like an explanation of the principles behind TodoTxt, I recommend this Web site or the Web site by the originator of the format.

TodoTxtMac is of course for the Mac. You can also get an application for the iPad, called Todo.txt Touch, for Windows (Todour), as well as for many platforms. I have only used the mac and the Windows version. They work well, and their files are fully compatible with each other.

The basis idea goes back to Gina Trapani, and it started out as a very sparse command line application. I like simple, but find the original version a bit too sparse. TodoTxtMac and Todour hit the sweet spot for me.

Oh ... and did I mention that the applications are free?

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Journaley is an open-source journal keeping software for Windows, which is compatible with the Day One app for Mac. I have been using Day One for almost three years. It works well, and I like it. I have used Journaley for less than a day, but it seems to work as advertised. I have set it up to sync with DropBox.

I believe it will be just as useful to people who don't use Day One on the Mac. In fact, it may be more useful, as it essentially reproduces the capabilities of Day One. It may be called "Day One for Windows."

I learned of the application from David Bosman

Extensive Review of Note-Taking Programs

A Cornucopia of Programs offers excellent short reviews of windows note-taking programs. Highly recommended!

No further comment!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Quick Word Writer

I recently came across Quick Word Writer in the Apple App Store. It is advertised as "the powerful word processor for OS X. An intuitive interface, powerful writing tools, and unmatched compatibility make it the choice of serious writers everywhere." The developer is obviously Chinese (Trongx Trading).

What intrigues me most is that it is supposed to do footnotes and endnotes. While $29.99 is cheap for a word processor, it is too much for me to just waste. I know nothing more about the application than that you can buy it through the App Store and that it promises to be good. But I have been burned before.

Does anyone know anything more about this application?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rotring Pens

Some Rotring Fountain pens have cult status. nowadays Many fountain pen lovers bemoan the fact that Rotring was bought in 1998 by Sanford (or Newell/Rubbermaid) which also bought Parker, Waterman and Papermate. Rubbermaid continued to sell old Rotring fountain pens until the stock was depleted. It also produced some new and cheaper fountain pens (like the Freeway, the New Orleans Series, the Impact, the Rive, the Rivette, the Altro, the Core, the Initial, the Lissabon and a few others). Some of the newer pens were made of plastic, though quite a few were also made of aluminum. Quality suffered, but some of the Sanford Rotrings are not bad. You can easily recognize the Sanford incarnations by the fact that they usually carry names (often of cities) rather than numbers. An exception seems to be the Rotring Esprit, a successor of the Rotring 400) which was sold since 1992 (but redesigned in 2004 as a telescoping pen). The old Esprit line did not have a telescoping fountain pen (but only ballpoints and pencils). I consider the Esprit one of the finest pens Rotring ever made.

Some of the Sanford pens took their cue from the old Rotring, like the Newton (which many people now call a "600" which it is not), and the Altro which is a plastic version of the Rotring 900 (and which some clown on the German eBay site tries to sell for big bucks (or Euros) as the real thing). Others may still have been designed by Rotring, and then sold by Sanford, but since catalogues are not easily available and information is sparse, this is difficult to determine. Eventually, Sanford gave up making fountain pens altogether (and for a while did not even produce any of the famous drafting pencils (300, 500, 600, 800).

I would say that if you want a genuine Rotring pen, don't buy anything made after 1998. If you want something that is just "more or less" genuine, you might go as far as 2004. Why 2004? In 2003, Guido Klamt, who oversaw sales for thirteen years at Rotring (and Sanford), finally quit. That is the terminus ad quem, as for as I am concerned.

The terminus post quem for Rotring fountain pens is probably 1982, as there really are no fountain pens from Rotring before that date. One of the reasons for this is that Pelikan owned a 50% share of Rotring since 1970, and that they probably did not want competition for their own lines of fountain pens. As they went into bankruptcy in 1982, they had to sell all their shares of Rotring. So, 1982 was the date at which Rotring became independent.

One of the first pens was probably the Rotring Renaissance which actually is essentially the same pen as the Reform 125. The innards are identical in the Reform 125 and the Renaissance (and even the outside is very similar). The Renaissance is actually a cheap Schulfüller, but it goes for a lot of money on eBay in America, just like the Gehas and Reforms.

In any case, Rotring's history of fountain pens was relatively short, that is, strictly speaking from 1982 to 1988 and at most from 1982 to 2004, or roughly twenty years.[1]

1. Since this story is largely conjectural and has many holes, I would welcome any enlightenment about the details or the general outlines

Thursday, November 13, 2014

HyperCard Renewed

Dave Winer is talking about bringing back hypercard or rather he thinks it would be easy to resurrect it using "HTML and JavaScript. All you'd really have to do is:
  1. Create a UI design toolkit that allows you to draw a user interface with divs that can have background-images that are bitmaps; and that's already a feature of HTML.
  2. Create an object class accessible through scripts that mirrors the object structure of HyperCard. You just have to get out the manual and clone what they had."
"In other words, it's just a slight variant on the web." Winer thinks it is "definitely worth doing if there are people who would develop in this environment who find HTML-plus-JavaScript not easy enough to understand."

See also this response. One of the main criticisms is that "one problem with implementing HyperCard in the browser is that it was never designed to work in a client-server environment." I don't know either.

Monday, November 3, 2014

More on Lists

An interesting book on lists has just been published. It was reviewed in the Independent under the title "Why do we like making lists?" This might well be a complex question because it is far from clear that everyone does in fact like making lists. In any case, it reminded me of Nietzsche's "Why am I so intelligent?"

What I liked most in the article were the following paragraphs:
A few years back, the Italian author Umberto Eco curated an exhibition at the Louvre entitled "Infinity of Lists". "We have a limit," he wrote, "a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death." He saw lists as a way in which we shrug off the finite nature of life and embrace the infinite, while also making it somehow comprehensible.

I don't share Eco's view; my own to-do lists – those ones that begin with "1. Make List" – very frequently end with something along the lines of "14. Rest of Life; 15. End". Less a celebration of the infinite, more a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the finite. But that is no less reassuring for an atheist like me, living in a world characterised by chaos. Blessed be the listmakers.
I criticized Eco's pretentiousness in a post of November 2009, called Umberto Eco on Lists. I do like the suggestion that you should start every to-do list with "1. Make List," and end it "X. End," at least implicitly.

And, no, I have not read the book itself yet.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Graham Greene on Typewriters, Fountain- and Ballpoint Pens

"My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane."

I agree with him on ballpoint pens!

T. S. Eliot's Fountain Pen

Apparently, it was given to him by his mother when he first went to school, and he used it all his life.[1] I am sure it explains neither his life nor his poetry.

1. See The Telegraph

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Hemingwrite "is-a single purpose, distraction-free writing composition device. It combines the simplicity of a 90s era word processor with the modern tech we all require like cloud backups and integration into our favorite document editors like Google docs and Evernote."

If it integrates with Google docs and Evernote, it is an improvement over the Neo 2. But the form factor seems regressive. It's too bulky. Why does it actually have to look like a typewrier?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Idea Index

Here is a description of how and why you should you create create your own index in the books you read. It's an approach I have followed for many years. There is one further step I take: Anything that I have noted in this way I transcribe into ConnectedText. It's not "rocket science" by any means, but it is worth to be repeated.

No further comment!

Monday, October 20, 2014

In Praise of the Kindle 3

In October 2010, I broke down and bought a Kindle 3 (with the chiclet keyboard). That is now four years ago. While I do not do all my reading on it—I like real books better in many ways, and I have a Kindle application on all my other electronic devices—I have regularly used this version of the Kindle, reading regularly some journals and papers (like The Atlantic and the Times Literary Supplement) on it, as well as some books that I did not buy as hard copy. There isn't a week in which it does not get some use.

I have never regretted buying the Kindle 3. Nor have I ever felt the need to update it. Though I have played with the Nook, I have given the ones I had (because of Barnes & Noble gift cards) to relatives. The Kindle 3 is a device that just works. I can easily see myself using it for another four or even eight years. There are not may electronic devices of which I could say this.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mac Mini and SSD Drive

It is not easy physically to change a hard drive in the Mac Min (2012), or perhaps better: it is not for the faint of heart. There is, however, a way of change your boot drive to an external SSD by just changing the Startup Disk in System Preferences. I have done this for a number of years. My latest configuration is a Vertex 3 Series VTX3-25SAT3-120G connected to a Seagate Thunderbolt adapter (Model: STAE128) and a Thunderbolt cable to the Mac Mini (or to an Apple Thunderbolt Display).

The computer boots up very quickly and you never see Apple's equivalent of the hour glass after setting up the drive as your system drive. An internal SSD might be slightly faster, but I doubt this would be noticeable.

The ability to specify any disk as a start up disk is one of the strengths of OS X. I just hope that it will not be axed in the future so that the borders of the Apple Ecosystem are closed even more to third-party "infringements."

Friday, October 17, 2014

The New Mac Mini: Upgrade or Downgrade?

The new Mac Mini (2014) is praised as a significant upgrade in most of the early reviews. And there are some improvements, most notably two Thunderbold 2 ports, (slightly) improved graphics performance in the two lower-priced models (Intel 5000 integrated graphics rather than 4000), and (even more) improved in the higher end model (Intel Iris Graphics). However, there are two changes that I can only consider as evil: You could easily upgrade the RAM yourself in the models from October 2012 or earlier. Apple has eliminated that possibility. In other words, you now MUST buy the ridiculously over-priced memory models and pretty much have them installed at the apple store (though I am sure that clever users will find ways to circumvent this). Nor is there a four-core processor option available any longer.

The last two "improvements" will keep me from buying the new model. I will stay with the four-core 16 GB 2012 model I now have until the next "upgrade" or until I buy another non-Apple computer. The last decision will depend, of course, on the next version of Windows. I can't stand Windows 8.

Update on October 19th: See also here. The Ram is soldered into the motherboard. The screws at the bottom of the device have been so modified that they are "tamper proof." Opening up a Mac Mini to change the hard drive means a voided warranty. That means no Mac Mini for me any longer, and probably the end of my Mac experience (after the Mac Mini 2012 will be obsolete—which may, of course be a while). I do like the the operating system, but not so much as to give up any possibility of modification. Case closed—no pun intended :).

Later that day: It keeps getting better: "Unlike single-core performance multi-core performance has decreased significantly. The "Good" model (which has a dual-core processor in both lineups) is down 7%. The other models (which have a dual-core processor in the "Late 2014" lineup but a quad-core processor in the "Late 2012" lineup) is down from 70% to 80% See here for more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Saramago on Typewriter versus Keyboard

"The truth is, I had no difficulty in adapting to the keyboard at all. Contrary to what is often said about the computer compromising one’s style, I don’t think it compromises anything, and much less if it is used as I use it—like a typewriter. What I do on the computer is exactly what I would do on the typewriter if I still had it, the only difference being that it is cleaner, more comfortable, and faster. Everything is better. The computer has no ill effects on my writing. That would be like saying that switching from writing by hand to writing on a typewriter would also cause a change in style. I don’t believe that to be the case. If a person has his own style, his own vocabulary, how can working on a computer come to alter those things?" José Saramago, in an interview in the Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 155.

My sentiments exactly. I also need a paper copy in the end!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two Outliners for the Mac

I discovered two outliners in the Mac Apps Store. One is called "The Outliner." It's a very rudimentary two-pane outliner. I cannot recommend it, especially also because the support site does not seem to be operational. It costs $1.99. I paid it, but it does not seem to me to be worth the price.

The other is called OutlineEdit. It is a slick one-pane outline with a number of extras, the most important of which is the so-called category filter. It allows you to assign different categories to outline items by giving them the same color. Look at the Website for an introduction. It costs $16.99, but it may well be worth the money. In any case, I am tempted. And not only because it looks good. I am not sure, however, that it is better than Outlinely which now also can do tags that can be filtered.[1]

1. A tag starts with a "@" character (which I prefer over assigning a color because it is easier to type.

Mou Fund Drive

I have written about the Mou Markdown Editor beore. It is a capable application that has been in beta for years. Its developer is now asking users to donate to a fund that will enable him to hire programers to create version 1.O: "Our goal is $20,000 USD. It'll be used to pay basic salary to our developers. It's enough for supporting 1 developer working full-time for 1 year, or 2 developers working full-time for half year. That'll be enough for us to finish Mou 1.0."

The minimum contribution is $10.00: In return, the contributor will get a "Mou 1.0 license + Feature requests." There are other options. See the Website for further details.

The hope is "to release Mou 1.0 in early 2015," if they reach the goal. It would be good (I believe), if they allowed contributions by way of Paypal.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


CatchCar gives you "a custom menu that consists of only the characters that you use often and add to it. This is different than using Charmap or Keyboard programs that show you the whole character set. Custom menu saves time. See the sample menu on the right that is installed with the program. You need to click on “Edit Menu” to replace with your own favorite characters." By the developer of Whizfolder which I used until the upgrades became too expensive. (They seem to have returned to a more reasonable level now, but I no longer have any use for the application.)

Nor is it restricted to just one character. Even though I use AutoHotKey and Breevy extensively for abbreviations, this might be useful for characters that you don't use often enough to want to learn an abbreviation.

Highly recommended!

Saturday, September 27, 2014


While Post-it Plus allows you to categorize notes, NoteRush takes this concept a bit further. It is pitched as "the best desktop app for creating linked notes and to do lists." I have not extensively tested, but it "is a Windows desktop application that helps you to write notes and build your information in a highly interactive and engaging way. NoteRush is centered around post it style note windows that can be linked and grouped as much as you like into dynamic floating collections."

There are two versions: Classic (which is free) and Premium (which costs 29.95). It needs .NET Framework 4.

The interface takes some getting used to, but NoteRush does what it promises to do and works like a vertical outliner of sorts.

The free version does not allow you to pin notes or export them. As I have not bought the application (or even actvated the 20 day trial), I could not test these features. From the little I have use NoteRush, I have developed a feeling that the problem in using the application for the long run will be that its interaction with other applications is a bit clunky. This may, of course, be wrong, and I will report on this later.

Overall, it seems like a good idea.

Post-it® Plus

Post-it Note is an application that does post-it notes on your iPhone or iPad. It's from 3M, and it looks promising. Among other things, you can organize them and share them with others.

No further comment!

Emerson on Ideas and Facts

Ralph Waldo Emerson found: "every day's doubt is whether to seek for ideas or to collect facts. For all successful study is the marriage of thoughts and things. A continual reaction of the thought classifying the facts and of facts suggesting the thought" (JMN 5, 72). He described this also as making thoughts conform to things and things conform to ideas or principles. It leads for him an ever-expanding circle of taking note of things.

Needless to say, I have always found this Emersonian approach compelling, even if the results of the marriage or dialectical confrontation—if there is a difference—led me to a quite different outlook of life and mind.

Monday, September 22, 2014

MS-DOS Editor in Windows 7

I did not know this, but the MS-DOS editor is still available in Windows 7. Just go to Start, type "" and hit return in the Search box. I always liked the editor. It allows split screen, for instance. Notepad cannot do that. On the other hand, it does not play nice with Umlauts.

It's just a curious fact. I will probably hardly ever use it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Slow Reading, Cooking, or Knitting?

There is a Wall Street Journal article on the benefits of "slow reading." It emphasizes all kinds of benefits of this practice: "really, really enjoy," improves "ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize," offsetting "the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the "slow-food" way or knitting by hand," "slowed rates of memory loss in participants' later years," improving the understanding of "others' mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships," and "a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. Advocates recommend setting aside at least 30 to 45 minutes in a comfortable chair far from cellphones and computers. Some suggest scheduling time like an exercise session." The words "learning" or "knowledge" do not occur in the article.

I doubt that the advantages mentioned are the primary benefits of reading. In fact, I dam sure that reading builds "crucial skills in building relationships." I think it atrophies that ability (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

There is also the claim that "many recommend taking occasional notes to deepen engagement with the text," not for the sake of extracting knowledge, of course, but to make reading more, like, say: cooking or knitting. I ask myself, if this "analysis" is true, why not cut out reading altogether and go for cooking and knitting right away. But I am unfair—the "or is not an exclusive or that is meant to exclude any of these activities, but rather an inclusive one that enjoins us to do all of them, as long as we don't try to do them all at the same time, as that would not be "linear" and "continuous" enough, leading to an "ever-faster pace of life."

Enough said!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DeLillo on Writing and Thinking

Delillo said in an interview
Writing is a concentrated form of thinking . I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them. Maybe I wanted to find more rigorous ways of thinking. We are talking about the earliest writing I did and about the power of language to counteract the wallow of late adolescence, to define things, to define muddled experience in economical ways: Let’s not forget that writing is convenient. It requires the simplest tools … A young writer sees that with words and sentences … He can place himself more clearly in the world. Words on a page, that’s all it takes to help him separate himself from the forces around him … He learns to think about … things, to ride his own sentences into new perceptions.[1]

I tend to agree. It's true not just for "a young writer." Nor is it true just for fiction.

1. The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 135

Monday, September 8, 2014

Typewriter Muzac

Muzac or elevator music fulfills a function. This function is—at least as far as I am concerned—to annoy people. Apparently, the Times has discovered a new twist on this. It pipes typewriter sounds into the newsroom.
“Typewriters disappeared from newsrooms in the late 1980s. There will be very few people there who remember the noise of massed bands of typewriters in the newsroom,” he said. “They will have to find out whether a crescendo of noise will make reporters work better or faster.”
There have been for a while applications that reproduce typewriter sounds as you type. I find that annoying. I believe that I would find the trype writer muzac even more annoying.

Loosely related to note-taking, I know!

Scribbleton, Again

I said I would most likely not take another look at Scribbleton, and I have not. But, as one reader of this blog reported, the ridiculous restriction of three links has been removed. There are many "reviews" of this alpha version on the net. Most of them are just summaries of the developer's description of the program.
This review is the best I have seen, though it is far from clear whether its author has actually used the application extensively. Nor is it clear whether Scribbleton allows other ways of creating a new page than that of pressing a button in the sidebar. The post says: "A left sidebar lists (clickable) the pages in the wiki and provides a button to create new pages."

No further comment!

Saturday, September 6, 2014


Folia is supposed to blow "the socks off of the linear word processors we’ve all been stuck using. It’s inspired by years of work observing how we communicate, learn, and record ideas (and of course our experience with iAnnotate)."

It's supposed to be more than "just a word processor with web-like links" because "connections in Folia are more powerful than the links we use on the web. Links on the web are just hollow connections between two pages, they provide limited information about why the link exists or which specific parts of a linked document are relevant. Frankly, I think it’s this limitation of HTML-style links that has prevented linking from becoming a more ubiquitous part of creating, writing, etc."

I was excited, I downloaded the application, and I opened it ... only to be greeted by a screen with "username" and "password" fields. It turns out that "in order to use Folia and view folias shared with you, you will need to be registered. ... The app is offered free of charge for a limited time but subscription pricing will take effect in future versions." This is revealed in the Frequently Asked Questions page.

I did not register and deleted the application. Someone else might not mind the proprietary format and lack of control over their own data as much as I do. Though I am intrigued by their claims about linking, I am not going to waste any more time on this application.

The application is available for free in Apple's Application Store. I should have read the customer reviews before downloading, as they mirror my main concern. I would also have found out that you cannot even print from the application.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Marginal Notes

Here is a post on marginal notes made by some authors in some other authors book—most of them by David Foster Wallace. It's interesting, but I liked the quote from Edgar Allan Poe the best:
In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.
There is something to be said for keeping one's notes inside of the books themselves—at least until retirement looms and you are faced with having to take all the books home from your office to your home with limited shelf-space. It's much easier to move index cards or paper slips; and it even easier to move computer files.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Paul Klee, Notebook

Here are three images of Paul Klee's Notebook on the doctrine pictorial forms. I reproduce one

The whole notebook can actually be bought as a facsimile at Amazon Germany.

It's beautiful!

No further comment!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


There is a new outliner for OSX (introduced on July 24, 2014). It is called Outlineedit and sells for $18.99 at the AppStore, that is, it's not cheap. "Works like you expect it to: set an outline title, create new items, then structure them using indentation and drag & drop." It also has a search function, can create color labels, has a notes function, allows checkboxes, can print and create PDFs based on an outline and can copy highlighted information from a web browser into an outline.

It is certainly an interesting application and worth a look. Whether it is worth $19.99 is a different question.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Hemingway Editor

Hemingway used to be a web application. It is now available for both the Mac and Windows. It is supposed to highlights common errors. Use it to catch wordy sentences, adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words." In other words, it does what MS-Word has done for many years.

I have always found these suggestions intrusive and not very helpful. But I am probably in the minority. What I find more compelling is that you can "format with Markdown, preview formatting
side-by-side, and save the HTML." So it's a Markdown editor as well.

It costs $4.99—a lot less than MS-Word.

Someone "Cannot Find Pen; Writes Entire NYT TrendPiece About It"

Here is a stronger reaction to the article I wrote about yesterday. And, yes, that someone is called an "asshole."

I don't necessarily condone the sophomoric humor ... but still.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The New York Times on the Demise of the Pen

In an article entitled "Fare Thee Well, My Pen" in the New Times Fashion section, it is claimed that "the pen is dead. It was murdered by the finger."

I guess this means that fashionable people do not use paper any longer either. They dip their fingers into ink wells and sign documents in this way. Or perhaps, fashionable people don't sign paper documents. The author claims he noticed the complete absence of pens in his house when his "girlfriend asked to borrow a pen to sign the back of one of those paper check things." Obviously, he himself has no need for such things. But why should unfashionable people follow his shallow approach to writing and living.?

For other fashionable exploits of this author see here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arc It

I have written about the Atoma/Arc/Caliber Notebooks before. Here is a Website devoted to the Arc Notebook alone. You can find out all you want to know about the system—and probably a lot more.

No further comment!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Henry James on Notebooks

Henry James writes about the pleasures connected with re-reading old notebooks: "One notes, as all writers remember, sometimes explicitly mention, sometimes indirectly reveal, and sometimes wholly dissimulate such clues and such obligations, The search for these last, indeed, through faded or pencilled pages is perhaps one of the sweetest of our more pensive pleasures.
  1. Then we chance upon some idea we have afterward treated;
  2. then, greeting it with tenderness, we wonder at the first form of a motive that was to lead us so far and to show, no doubt, to eyes not our own, for so other;
  3. then we have heave a sigh of relief over all that is never, thank goodness to be done again. Would we have embarked on that stream had we known?—and what mightn't we have made of this one //hadn't// we known!
But more generally notebooks are for him also a means of capturing "a record of passing impressions, of all that comes, that goes, that I see, and feel, and observe. To catch and keep something of life ..."

In other words, they serve at least two functions, one having to do with art or theory, the other having to do with life. For him these two functions were starkly separated. "Life is being all inclusion and confusion, and art being all discrimination and selection, the latter in search of the hard latent value with which one is concerned, sniffs around the mass as instinctively and unerringly as a dog suspicious of some buried bone." Needless to say, theory and life do not have to be viewed this way.[1] But not matter how their relation is viewed, notebooks or other ways of record-keeping, are essential for both.

I have never aspired to creating "art" or "fiction."

Saturday, July 12, 2014


There is a new cross-platform wiki software called Scribbleton, The Little Personal Wiki. It's in alpha, that is, not even beta. The developer claims that he is making the program available early to bring us "a top-quality cross-platform product." It is a personal wiki that saves a document to the hard drive. I found it irresistible, downloaded it, and played around with it. Scribbleton seems to allow for common formatting and linking of entries.

I say "seems," as I immediately encountered problems with making a word bold, could not delete a page that was created by accident, and could not find any keyboard shortcuts. But more importantly, in my view, when I tried to fix this problem, I encountered a message to the effect that the trial version allows only for a maximum of three, yes ... 3, links. You have to buy the alpha product for $10.00 in order to "support" further development.

This approach is not just a bit cheeky. It also seems to be counter-productive for the developer. You just cannot get a sense of the program with three links. And I wonder how many people are willing to pay $10.00 (per user) on something that may never even see beta. Nor does it inspire confidence in the developer who seems to have little or no interest in his possible customers.

The pro looks good, but I have already removed it from my computer. Nor is it likely that I will ever take another look at it. Perhaps some readers of this blog can tell me how it progresses.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How Many Clicks to Create a Link?

I recently tried out Cherrytree It's available on Linux and Windows and is described as follows:
Cherrytree is what's referred to as an "hierarchal" note taking application, meaning it's designed to store your entries in containers, which some programs call "notes" or "pages" and Cherrytree calls "nodes". If you envision the Cherrytree document as the root of a tree, and each "node" as a branch in that tree, sub-nodes as branches off that branch, you will start to get the idea. If you have ever used outlining programs like OmniNote, Kjots, Keepnote and others, then Cherrytree will feel very familiar. However, Cherrytree is not just about having a place to write notes and to-do items and keeping them organized, it's also a place you can store links, pictures, tables, even entire documents. It can be your one program for all the miscellaneous information you have and want to keep. All those little bits of information you have scattered around your hard drive can be conveniently placed into a Cherrytree document where you can easily find it.

It is quite capable as a two-pane outliner that does rtf, plain text, and automatic syntax highlighting in each node, but I was interested mostly in its capabilities of inter-linking notes in its own database, and I found it seriously lacking in this respect. It takes five clicks or operations to get a link:
  1. Ctrl_L or Edit|Insert or Edit Link
  2. this brings up a dialogue, in which you sepcify a link name, and click O.K.
  3. another dialogue comes up in which you have to select what kind of link you want, you select "To Node"
  4. a list of all the available nodes comes and you must scroll to and click on the one you want (and this can be tedious, if you have many nodes)
  5. you click the OK button
Only then do you have a functioning link.

I was interested in this software because I had seen it described on the Web as a wiki-like application. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Five clicks is four too many.

I might have been interested, if it included the ability to create [[free links]]. Your demands may be different, however.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Handwritten Memories?

There is a meme making the rounds on the Internet which mainly consists of the claim that handwriting is superior to the keyboard in committing things to memory. Somehow, some people surmise there are possible links between the psychomotor action of handwriting and memory itself. This is what makes handwriting special. I am not a cognitive psychologist, but a skeptic. Such special links are possible, but I don't think they have been established. Furthermore, there is another explanation. In a recent article of the Boston Globe, Ruth Graham reports on research that purports to show that in memory tasks there is such a thing as "desirable difficulty." Taking verbatim notes by hand is more difficult in handwriting than it is with the keyboard. You just can't keep up as much as you can with the keyboard. So, you have to evaluate, select, and organize what you write down. In other words you have actively engage the material in a way that someone with a keyboard does not have to engage with it (and therefore usually does not). "'Because laptop users are better able to keep up with the pace of speech, it turns out, they are more susceptible to transcribing lectures verbatim, a style of note-taking that previous experiments has shown to be inferior. “If students are taking down notes on everything that’s said in class, they’re just functioning as a stenographer,' said Michael Friedman, a cognitive psychologist who is conducting note-taking research as a fellow at the Harvard Initiative for Learning & Teaching."

This explanation does not appeal to "possible links" between psychomotor action and memory at all. It attributes the difference to conscious engagement with what is taken down. There is a difference between taking things down and taking note of things. And there is nothing inherently bad about the keyboard. You just have to learn not to use it like a stenographer. This should be possible. In fact, it is desirable that we all develop this skill. Students should just as little be encouraged to think that learning is equivalent to stenography as to believe that photocopying pages is equivalent to reading them.

Monday, June 9, 2014

D. H. Lawrence on "Ideal Conditions to Work"

In the most recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement D. H. Lawrence is reported to have recalled "several places that offered the ideal conditions to work." They were in Tuscany, the south of France, and Paris, for instance. "What they all had in common, these ideal places for working, was that I never got any work done in them." Gazing out of windows and taking walks were constant temptations. My experience exactly, though my places were Edinburgh (Scotland), and Marburg (Germany)—to name just two.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Storyist as a Personal Wiki

Don't ask me why, but I downloaded the trial version of Storyist for the Mac, a word processors "designed for writers of fiction" that does many of the same things Scrivener does. "Storyist provides the word processing tools you expect from a top-notch creative writing application, including spell checking; smart quotes processing; annotations; and support for headers, footers, and style sheets. And Storyist comes with manuscript and screenplay templates so you can focus on the writing, not the formatting." Yes, you probably can, and "the story development tools in Storyist let you sketch out a story using index cards and photographs and then refine it with customizable plot, character, and setting sheets. If you prefer a more traditional approach, Storyist provides an outliner for working with your story elements in outline form."

It just so happens that I do not write stories or novels. I am much more concerned with non-fiction, or perhaps better, academic writing. I need to be able to do footnotes, for instance. There is a way to emulate footnotes by assigning a bookmark to a paragraph and dragging the bookmark into the pace where you want the footnote reference. It works, but it's a pain (and does not allow automatic numbering). Nor does any of this export very well. There are other things that should discourage anyone from using it for what it was not designed for, namely writing non-fiction.

There is, however one way for which it clearly was not designed that works quite well. Storyist supports wiki-style links, ore better: free links. Enclosing a word or phrase in double brackets links, like [[so]] will create a link to that page. More precisely:
To create a Wiki link,
1. Place the insertion point at the location where you want to create a link.
2. Type two open brackets: "[["
3. Type the title of the element you want to create a link to.
4. Type two close brackets: "]]"
If the story element already exists, Storyist creates a link to it. If the element does not exist, Storyist assumes that you want to create a new notebook entry and takes care of that for you.

If you change the title of the story element elsewhere, Storyist updates your Wiki link title.
You can also specify a different title for the link by adding "|" before the desired title within the wiki link title.

Actually, the wiki link will create a note with the the title you have chosen. The notebook in Storyist is a free-form text editor. You cannot link different parts of the manuscript. Nor can you link to the manuscript (unless I am very mistaken). The great thing is that you can interlink different notes this way as well.

So Storyist could be used as a simple wiki. Perhaps you could also say that it is a not-so-simple wiki because you can view the wiki entries in outline view and as note cards. It also is a WYSIWYG wiki, as there wre no different views for editing and viewing. You can also add comments to the notes to add a further layer of complication.

I think this is an interesting, if perhaps somewhat perverse way, to use what is meant to be a word processor as a wiki-like note-taker. Will I pay the $59.00 for the OSX application to use it.[1] I am afraid not, as I already have the kind of personal wiki with which I am fully satisfied. But, if you are in the market for a word processor for writers, the wiki-capability may well be an added bonus.[2]

1. There is an iOS application which by all accounts integrates well with the desktop application.
2. Please do not consider this as a thorough review of all the features of Storyist. I have really only played with it to see whether it might be useful for my writing "projects."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Inherent Advantages of Mead Three-Subject Notebooks?

Michael Leddy has an interesting post on Roger Angell's use of Mead Notebooks. I have never liked these. They are to big for my tastes, and I very much dislike that they are wirebound. All sorts of things get stuck in the wires and the pages fray easily in my experience. That being said, I think this just goes to show that note-taking is just as much a matter of habituation as eating. You tend to like what you grew up with, and their is not much else that can be said about this—as far as I am concerned. Growing up in Germany, i found wirebound notebooks weren't very common, if they existed at all. I think they offer no advantages over composition books.

No further comment!


Ted Nelson has finally released Xanadu—sort of. He thinks that the "Web trivialized this original Xanadu model, vastly but incorrectly simplifying these problems to a world of fragile ever-breaking one-way links, with no recognition of change or copyright, and no support for multiple versions or principled re-use. Fonts and glitz, rather than content connective structure, prevail." OpenXanadu is a working model of the system. You can try it out on that Website. I did, but I cannot say that it changed my life. It did not even seem that appealing to me. Yes, you can see the link, but ConnectedText's Graphs allow you to do the same thing, and they do not get in the way like the "connective structure" in the working model.

I hope I am not unfair. Perhaps what counts is "under the hood."

No further comment!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Leafnote versus Treepad Lite

Leafnote does something that Treepad cannot do: italics, bold and underline. This has to do with the fact that rtf is much better integrated into OSX than it is into Windows. But apart from that, all that separates Leafnote from Treepad Lite is that Leafnote has a more modern look. Treepad's surface has not really changed any since 1995. But "under the hood," there is a lot more hidden (which you can ignore or use, as you like). All things said and done, one may say that Leafnote is just a more simple Treepad for OSX.

Treepad Lite has much more refined search functions and even has the ability to link to other files via textual links. Come to think of it, the latter would be a great addition to Leafnote.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Leafnote is "a super-minimal text editor with a twist: that tree on the left lets you create and organize as many documents as you like within a single project." There is a good review here.

It does not do much. You can
  • Add a leaf next to the current selection
  • Add a child of the selected leaf
  • Duplicate the selected leaf (and its children)
  • Delete the selected leaf (and its children)
  • Underline, bold, and italicize text
To rearrange the tree, click and drag nodes to where you want them to go.

You can print or export an item (with or without children) or everything to rtf and odt. You can also import txt or odf files. You can save and open files as templates (which are just ordinary files that can be re-used). The files themselves are saved in human-readable XML format with the extension of "lfn".

That's it. You can call it an editor. You can also call it an outliner. There is no reason why you could not use Markdown or any other markup in the leaves.

It's not fancy, but it does what it does elegantly. I just had to buy it, though $9.99 is perhaps a bit steep.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Wikichucks, "The Personal Wiki With The Awful Name," is a windows-based desktop wiki. It is written in Autohotkey, and it works, that is, the exe file works, while the ahk file throws an error about a duplicate label.

I have only begun playing with iWiikichucks!, but I am impressed—and, as you might have gathered, if you read many of my posts, I am not easily impressed! You just extract the directory from the downloaded zip file, and click on wikichuch.exe. It needs no installation, and it does not write to the registrry. But MS Internet Explorer needs to be installed.

Links are inserted by enclosing a word or phrase in doubel square brackets, like so: This is a [[Free link]].

While it is not for the faint of heart, it is extremely customizable. The first thing I did was to get rid of the awful header. The second thing was to change the markup for italics ('') and bold ('''') to ConnectedText's markup ("//" and "**"). It was as easy as replacing those expressions in the wiki.ini.markdown page. You could also allow to have several kinds of markup by leaving both conventions.[1] Any other markup, like Markdown's "*" and "**" would also do. Some of the other things, like headers, etc. Are also customizable. I will say more about my adventures with this desktop wiki in the future.

1. The formatting section looks just like this:

FORMATTING **********************************
MARKDOWN,....,<center> ,</center>

would allow for the Markdown convention for italics as well. The author's use of "markdown" for "wiki markup" might be a bit confusing for those who expect Gruber's Markdown.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rotring Surf versus Reynolds Gallery

It's well known that some of Rotring's products became, after the buy-out by Sanford (or Rubbermaid) part of other companies, like Parker (Newton, Esprit, and Diplomat) and Rubbermaid (Tikky). I found another candidate, though I believe this one is different in that it was never really a Rotring, but was developed by Sanford as a pen that would be sold by different companies. The Rorting Surf

And the Reynolds Gallery seem to be more or less identical:

It's just that the Surf was sold as a Rotring in Europe and North America under the Rotring label and under the Reynolds label in Australia, India and other Asian countries.[1] The photograph is taken from an eBay seller from Australia.

The difference between the pen is that they have their respective "manufacturers printed on the cap.Both have an "R" stamped on it, but the Reynolds nib seems less ornate. Both are cheap pens. But I can attest to the fact that the Surf writes quite well. So I recommend it for $10.00? Not really. Do I consider the Surf a Rotring? Just barely ... It is a Sanford pen.

1. Reynolds also was taken over by Sanford (Rubbermaid) in the late eighties of the twentieth century. The description of one of the Gallerys on eBay says: "Established in 1927 at la Ferte'-Milon in France, Reynolds has over the past eight decades been a leader in writing instruments in Europe and the rest of the world. In 1946, the headquarters and factory were shifted to Valence, in the south of France. The company is headquartered at Valence till date." But another site says: The year 1999 was a landmark year in the history of Reynolds. Since then it has been a member company of Sanford Corporation, USA. Sanford is a US $ 1.2 billion company. Sanford is in turn the writing instruments division of the US $ 5.9 billion Newell Rubbermaid group. Sanford has the broadest range of writing, marking, colouring and drawing products worldwide." This does not indicate how much they "streamlined" or narrowed the range of writing instruments. Many kinds of fountain pens became extinct since the Rubbermaid group felt it had to get involved.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Notation seems to be a Notational Velocity, or perhaps better, an nValt clone for windows. I came across it through a Brazilian Website´. While I cannot read Portuguese, I can make out enough of the text to see whether it talks of something that might be of interest to me. :) since my favorite program was also developed by someone in Brazil, I was interested in Notation right away.

I have not done much with it since downloading: imported my nValt notes from Dropbox (worked like a charm). I changed one of the entries, using Markdown syntax (also worked like a charm). Apparently, you can set up the application to sync with Simplenote by e-mail. I have not done that (yet).

One difference between nValt and Notation is that the Search box cannot be used to create a new entry. You use Winkey + N. Purists might mind this, I don't.

The help file is very rudimentary and information about the program can only be found through the "About" entry.

This is a very promising application. What keeps me from using it? Apart from the fact that I really don not need another note-taking application, I cannot figure out where Notation stores its files.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Zettelkasten and Bricolage

According to Levi-Strauss, bricolage consists of of research or thinking that is not looking for something that would go beyond the data collected and the concepts inherited from a tradition which may be "more or less coherent or ruined." There can be no doubt that a method like Luhmann's slip box may lend itself to this kind of approach—especially when it is combined with something that I discussed earlier under the title of "fieldstone method" and "flat outlines. Writing has to be more than collecting and re-arranging, if it is to be thinking on paper. To be sure, interesting thought links up with things that have already been thought, but originality or novelty does not consist in linking or connecting things that are found. It is concerned—at least in part—with answering questions, as Collingwood well realized. These questions need not be new, though some of the most interesting ones are.

In the same way, flat outlines in writing might be the beginning, but it would be a mistake to think that they are the only useful way to outline, as some instructors seem to think. There is more to thinking and writing than mere bricolage.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Some Criteria for Buying a Fountain Pen

So you have decided you want to buy a fountain pen because you are tired of ballpoint pens—the "handmaiden of Beelzebub," or other inferior products that put more strain on the environment because they need cartridges, etc. What would be some of the criteria you should employ? Well, it seems to me that they should (i) either be piston fillers that draw ink from an inkwell, or fountain pens that allow you to use a converter. The first are few and far between nowadays, the second are plentiful. Almost every fountain pen that uses a cartridge can also use a converter. And (iii) it should be a fountain pen that allows you to change the nib or nib section easily and without any fuss, so that you are not stuck with the nib you with which you bought the pen. What are the alternatives?
  • Lamy: almost all Lamy pens allow you to change nibs at will (with the exception of the Lamy 2000 (a piston filler whose nibs cannot be changed). So, Lamy safari, vista, AL-star, nexx, linea, cp1, accent, studio, logo and joy pens all take the same nibs. You could either buy separate nibs (for less than $15 at Amazon, or Goulet Pens, or many other outlets. Or perhaps you could buy different pens with different nibs that can easily be switched. You just pull the nib from one pen and put it on the other. It's easy. There is no need to do this right away or all at once, but you can do so at any time you feel like it. Lamy pens use two different types of converter, so be careful to see which one fits your model. There are the Lamy Z24 and the Z26 Converter. Usually there is one included with the purchase of the pen. If you want a cartridge for backup, make sure you buy the Lamy type as others won't fit. When you buy a Lamy, you buy an "eco-system," not just one pen.
  • Levenger: The Levenger True Writer series, as well as many of Levenger's other pens, like the L-Tech (my favorite). You can easily unscrew the entire nib section and exchange it with another. The nib sections cost almost twice as much as the Lamy nibs (and the pens are a bit more expensive, but they are a good choice.
  • TWSBI: The nib section exchange works the same as on the Levenger. Furthermore, it is my experience that some of the TWSBI nib sections work well on the Levengers. In fact, they work better in my experience. Some Edison nib sections also work well with Levengers. But you must do your homework to see which ones fit, even with the TWSBIs.
  • There are other pens that work similarly, but the ones mentioned above are the most popular and most easily available pens.
  • Pelikans, though piston fillers, also have exchangeable nib sections. But they are proprietary and in my experience do not work in other pens. They are also much more expensive which is perhaps not bad, as Pelikans are high quality pens.(/li>
It's probably a good thing to go with one of these pens. The nibs on many other pens can also be exchanged, as the nib and feed are often just friction fit, can be pulled out, and be changed. But this is not for the faint of heart. You also need to know a great deal (and experiment to get it done). It's probably not something you want to do, if you are deciding to buy a pen for the first time. And perhaps you will never want to do it.
The easiest in my experience are the Lamys and the Levengers.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rotring Lissabon

I have, of course, nothing against analogue tools. I do not just use them extensively, but I also collect them. Typewriters have little appeal to me, and not just because they are too big. But fountain pens are as fascinating to me as they were to Heidegger.

I recently acquired a Rotring Lissabon. Rotring had for a time—just before the fountain pen division was closed down—a penchant for using city names for their products. "Lissabon" is, of course, German for Lisboa. There was an "Oslo," a "Madrid," a "New Orleans," etc. The pen is very rare. It never appears to have been sold in the U.S.A., and I read on "the Internets" that it received in 2000 a prize for best fountain pen in Europe. I have not been able to find out what prize that might have been.

Nor do I understand why it would have received a prize. It looks good and, being made of brass, feels good to hold, but it is ultimately a bad pen. It seems to be an unfinished product. Not only is the nib and feed section not made by Rotring. It seems to be a rather cheap Chinese version, as evidenced by the inscription on the nib: "Iridium point, Made in Germany," but more importantly it evidently was not made for this pen. The feed is flattened on one side, so that if it is friction-fit into the proper barrel, it fits only one way. But there is no flattened side on the pen barrel. Accordingly there is very little friction to hold the nib into the pen. When I received it, the nib was very loose. I could make it sit a little tighter, but it remains loose. I would thus not advise anyone to take it on a trip. You might end up with ink all over the place.

It does not write badly—it's sort of like a Jinhao X450. But I would not spend more money on it either, unless you collect Rotring pens and therefore must have it.

There also is a Senator version of this pen in plastic:

I have not actually held this pen in my hand and do not know whether it fixes the issue I pointed out.

Typewritten Thinking?

Thinking Slowly by Matt Gemmell claims
’m a fan of analogue tools. I depend on them. I incorporate them into my creative process no matter what I’m doing. When I’m thinking about the architecture of a piece of software, I use a whiteboard (and index cards attached to the board with magnets) long before I launch Xcode. ... And then there’s writing, of course. I mostly do that on an assortment of electronic devices – some new, like my 2013 MacBook Air, and some old, like my gorgeous PowerBook 150 from 1994 – but right now I’m using something a bit more vintage: a typewriter.
Nothing wrong with that, I suppose ... a bit pretentious, perhaps ... and almost completely incomprehensible to someone who had to write his dissertation and first papers with a typewriter—only to have to pay almost $1000.00 to have the final versions typed up by a professional typist, but to each his or her own.

Gemmell claims more, however: "I use them [analogue tools] to slow myself down. To introduce just enough friction that I’m compelled to pause. We don’t pause enough anymore. We don’t give ourselves time to think." And this is deeply weird. A typewriter gives him (and would give us, he seems to claim) "time to think." And how is this supposed to work?
Strike a key too gently, and the letter will be faint or invisible. Strike the wrong key, and you’ll have to remove the paper, paint over the error with correction fluid, let it dry, reinsert the paper and roll it to the correct line, position the carriage, and try again. It’s onerous, and even when you get it right, it’s physically difficult.
Give it some time, and the typewriter will be just as automatic as the computer keyboard—I am tempted to say. Have you ever seen a typist hammer away at a dissertation of which she/he understood little or nothing? No, probably not, come to think of it.

But it gets worse:
These older, simpler tools, with all of their baggage and inefficiencies, compel us to front-load the thinking process. They necessitate a certain concentration and cognitive abstraction. They force us to measure twice. Error-correction becomes a vaguely burdensome eventuality, as it should be, rather than an omnipresent part of the creative process. The slower pace of authorship throttles the hands, allowing the mind some extra breathing room and thus more effective oversight.
In other words, "the older, simpler tools, with all their baggage and inefficiencies," distract from the task at hand, that is thinking what we want or need to think about. Rather they force the inexperienced user to think about how to accomplish putting thoughts on paper. Thinking about how in this way is just as bad in writing as it is in pole vaulting.

In any case, there is no magical connection between a typewriter and writing. And Gemmell's post is in many ways a sign of a particular form of thoughtlessness.[1]

1. There is still more that is wrong. I will mention only one: "We start too quickly. Indeed, we mistakenly believe that starting work means starting to produce." That is actually exactly the opposite of what I advise Ph.D. Students to do. There are too many people who "think" about what they are going to write without writing. You can't think complicated thoughts without writing. Therefore, it is necessary to start right away. And, as to an alternative to doing "our thinking piecemeal, interspersed amongst flashes of inspiration and fumbling in equal measure." I don't know of any.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pointless Connections

This article about spurious correlations is an interesting reminder that not all correlation amounts to causation, like the this one which correlates imports of crude oil into the U.S. From Venezuela and the per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup. This is, of course something one needs to keep in mind while taking notes, though it usually is so obvious as not to need pointing out. But it's not always obvious, so I reminder might be somewhat useful.[1]

I consider the connection between the use of steel nibs and the lack of creativity in writing to be spurious, for instance.

1. It takes a while for the second link to load.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Creative Tools?

I recently read this on a blog I had no business reading: Slaw: Canada's only online magazine. The blog entry is on Scapple, and the piece of wisdom at the end that caught my eye was expressed in "lawyerese". Here it is: "Software such as Scapple and Scrivener can do nothing without being driven by a creative person such as a lawyer." I agree: software programs are tools; like all tools, they don't do anything by themselves. It's the person who uses them who does or does not accomplish something by their means.

There are better and worse tools. There are tools that enable you to do things you could not do without them, but even with them it is in the end the person who uses them who is decisive.

This also holds for note-taking. There are too many people who believe that, if only they had the right tool they would be able to create great things. We should remember that it remains up to us create whatever we create, and that the tools are to a large extent incidental. Often, good enough is good enough, and the search for new and better is just a diversion. Some people who should know call it "crimping."

I probably said this before: There is nothing wrong with diversions per se. Diversion may be wrong if it becomes a substitute for work, though some people's work is about diversion itself.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

New Scratch File for ConnectedText

I discovered this Website today. The Scratchpad will replace the one I created the more simple-minded script I wrote some years ago. The best thing I like about it is that it can create new content from a template. The script runs saves files in the same directory in which it runs. Templates are in a template directory underneath it. I run the script from a Dropbox directory.

I am not using the exe file, but the AhK script, and made a few changes to it. I had to change some of the Gui boxes because they did not display correctly. I also changed the file extension from "txt" to "cbk," and I wrote the following template:



The program/script saves in UTF-8. The file names look like this: "04 May 2014 1005.cbk" where "1005" refers to the time

I can now import files created in this way as ConnectedText backup files. "##CT##" needs to be followed by the name of the topic. I have set the the ConnectedText import option to overwrite, if a topic with the same name exists. The expression "[[created:=%a_yyyy%%A_MM%%A_dd%]]" creates the topic with the creation time as an attribute. It all works correctly. ConnectedText takes the name of the topic from whatever follows "##CT##", not from the file name.

One cautionary note. If you choose the import option "overwrite," you have to be careful not to choose a topic that already exists, but you can always add a modifier to the topic that identifies it as imported, however.

What do I need it for? I use it as a way of "backing up" or rather of writing to an import directory in Dropbox when I don't have ConnectedText available (or when I have forgotten to sync the office computer with the home computer). It's the best solution I have found so far.[1]

1. I am very thankful to Desi Quitans who wrote the original script. Apparently it has been downloaded more than 4500 times. The other programs referenced on the Webpage are also very interesting.

Henry James on the Steel Pen

Henry James has one of his characters in The Portrait of a Lady compare one of his wife's "intimates" with a "new steel pen":
"Miss Stackpole, however, is your most wonderful invention. She strikes me as a kind of monster. One hasn’t a nerve in one’s body that she doesn’t set quivering. You know I never have admitted that she’s a woman. Do you know what she reminds me of? Of a new steel pen – the most odious thing in nature. She talks as a steel pen writes; aren’t her letters, by the way, on ruled paper? She thinks and moves and walks and looks exactly as she talks. You may say that she doesn’t hurt me inasmuch as I don’t see her. I don’t see her, but I hear her, I hear her all day long. Her voice is in my ears, I can’t get rid of it."
She is not the only one he finds distasteful, and he wants his wife to "make a new collection."[1]

1. I am grateful to Palimpsest for calling my attention to this passage. There is another passage on the steel pen on the blog See here. Compare with the previous post on Kierkegaard on Steel Nibs.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Street Typists?

I did not know that there ever were street typists in India. Nor did I know that they are in decline. But it does seem to be (have been) a great idea. You can't beat the rate either.[1]

No further comment.

1. By way of spencerseidel, a Scrivener expert.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mo Tzu on External Memory

The Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu (470-391) apparently wrote that "the sources of knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels." I quote in accordance with Nicholas Basbanes, On paper. The "Everything" of its Two-Thousand Year History by a Self-Confessed Bibliophiliac (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), p. 5.

I am not sure it was written by Mo Tzu or Mo Zi, as he is also called. The Book of Master Mo seems to have been compiled over a number years by his pupils. Still, it is an interesting reminder that before paper, there were other ways of fixing memory. Long before paper, people realised "Verba volent, scripta manent."

I did like Basbane's book, though I do believe that his choice of topics is less than judicious. Furthermore, precise references—any references—are often lacking. Thus he does not tell us where his quote of Mo Tzu comes from.

Shelf of Honor

Today, I came across the notion of a "shelf of honor" again in Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven:
Max went to his "shelf of honor" on the mantelpiece. Between two bronze book ends, laurel-crowned satyrs with cloven hooves, were the ten or fifteen books that at a certain moment represented the sublime for him. Now and then there were changes, but what was always there was his father's copy of the Ego and His Own, signed Wolfgang Delius—im Felde 1917, ... Kafka's Preparations for a Country Wedding ...
I had encountered the notion of a "shelf of honor" or "Ehrenbort" before in Thomas Mann, "Antwort auf eine Rundfrage." On Mann's shelf of honor: Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation took a large place, but it also held Shakespeare, Goethe, Novalis, [and] Nietzsche."

I find this idea interesting. Though I do not have a physical shelf dedicated to books most important to me, if I did (or when I do) it will probably contain Montaigne's Essys, Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Immanuel Kant's Groundwork, Lichtenberg's Sudelbücher, and Kafka's Metamorphosis.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rotring Esprit versus Rotring 400

I have known for a long time that the Rotring Esprit is a successor of the Rotring 400. The introduction of the Esprit must have coincided with (or have come shortly after) Rotring's decision to drop numbers in their names of pens and assign names. Another pen that was affected was the new "Newton," is a successor of the 600. One may argue that the first Newton was an improvement over the old 600 which had serious problems with the mechanism that holds the cap in place. After much use, the mechanism that makes the cap click in becomes worn, and the cap remains loose. Well, it appears that the new mechanism is not much better, as it also wears out and sometimes gets even ripped off the pen.

The 400 and the Esprit have a similar relation. It appears that Rotring tried to fix the issue with the red ring (indicating its brand) at the bottom of the barrel.

I have read post that complain that the ring came loose. It also seems that the shiny coat is very susceptible to scratches. The ends of the pen have a little spherical protrusion that does not look very good. In any case, the Esprit fixes these issues:

The red ring is now on the cap, the surfaces are matte rather than shiny (on most models, and the protrusion is gone.[1] The Esprit truly is a "new and improved" version—something that is not necessarily true of the Newton as compared with the 600. I consider the Esprit to be one of the finest pens Rotring ever made. But, however that may be, both the 400 and the Esprit have the same nibs that they are great writers.

Why the can you buy the Esprit for roughly $30.00 on eBay, while the 400 is advertised for almost five times as much? I believe the answer is supply and demand. There are still many Esprits around, but 400s are very rare. In fact, Rotring does not seem to have produced very many of these pens. Is that irrational? Probably not. If you are a collector you may prefer something rare and imperfect, just because it is rare (like a stamp or a bill with a mistake in it). But if you are just interested in using the pen, it would be foolish to pay more for less.[2] There is, of course, also another reason. There are sellers on eBay who believe that the name "Rotring" automatically means big profits for them. They advertise Newtons (of both generations) as 600s, and want more than $300.00 for some of them. There is even someone who tries to sell a cheap plastic pen that is available on the German eBay site for around $10.00 for eight times as much. I wonder how many of those she/he sells. Is it irrational for someone to do this? Probably not, even if greed is not a virtue. More importantly, perhaps, I do believe that it is irrational for a buyer to pay outrageous prices.

Another thing that is interesting to me is that both the 400 and the Esprit have definite similarities to the Lamy CP1. I do not know which pen was developed first, but I do see an influence or "cross-fertilization."

The Lamy CP1 is perhaps more stylish than the Esprit, but I still like to write better with the Esprit. It's not quite as thin as the Lamy and better designed for my fingers.

Should you wonder ... yes, I have an obsession with my writing instruments that is almost as intense as that of Roland Barthes, and this includes at least one piece of software.

1. I am not talking about the telescoping mini pens and pencils which were introduced later and became the "Parker Esprit." They are very different, and I don't like them. Nor am I talking about the telescoping mini pencils that have the same finish and that I like.
2. I paid a lot less for the 400 than what people want on the U.S. eBay site.