Monday, March 31, 2014

Outlinely versus Scribe

Scribe, an outliner I talked about before, released a new version today.[1] It is version 1.2. The release promises massive performance increases and it also delivers some small bug fixes. This update reminds me to do a comparison of Scribe and Outlinely. Here it goes:
  • They are both very simple applications, their menus look almost the same, and they do what they do very well.
  • The keyboard shortcuts seems identical.
  • Scribe affords several outline styles from legal, to academic, bullets, and check boxes. I find that to be a definite plus for scribe, as I don't see how Outlinely supports this at all
  • Outlinely supports a "focus mode" or hoisting, something that Scribe does not support. I find this is a plus for Outlinely.
  • Outlinely supports notes. This is another plus of Outlinely.
  • Scribe costs $12.99; Outlinely costs 4.99 for now (it will go up to around $10.00 after an "introductory period."
  • Outlinely has more of the feeling of an editor. I know this is very subjective, but it is also a plus in my book.
In spite of a greater number of pluses for Outlinely, I will continue to do most of my Mac outlining with Scribe, as I very much prefer the automatic numbering styles in Scribe.

I should perhaps also say that most of my outlining is actually done in ConnectedText, and that means Windows—at least for now.

1. See here and here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Talking about "boxes," here is one that I would wish we did not have to put any person in. But I am afraid that “resentment of the life of the mind, and those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life” is not decreasing, but increasing. — Not directly related to note-taking, but insofar as taking note is an essential part of the intellectual life, it is not unrelated either.

No further comment!


I read some time ago Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. It is an interesting book by a dancer and choreographer. She praises her own system of note-keeping:
I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

The box documents active research on every project … There are separate boxes for everything I’ve ever done. If you want a glimpse into how I think and work, you could do worse than to start with my boxes.

The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet.

It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on the box means I’ve started work.

The box makes me feel connected to a project. It is my soil. I feel this even when I’ve back-burnered a project: I may have put the box away on a shelf, but I know it’s there. The project name on the box in bold black lettering is a constant reminder that I had an idea once and may come back to it very soon.

Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box….

They’re easy to buy, and they’re cheap…. They’re one hundred percent functional; they do exactly what I want them to do: hold stuff. I can write on them to identify their contents… I can move them around… When one box fills up, I can easily unfold and construct another. And when I’m done with the box, I can ship it away out of sight, out of mind, so I can move on to the next project, the next box.
It's tax time in the U.S. This is what brought her point home to me again. I use a box to collect throughout the year everything related to taxes. It's not a atorage box, but it is more of the size of a shoe box. I have another one for receipts I need for warranties, and still another one for paper notes that need integration in my electronic project boxes.

I have written before about how my note-taking often starts out from an unstructured shoe-box like approach that slowly evolves into something more structured. It's one of the strengths of ConnectedText that it allows you to start out that way and go from there, that there can be at the same time highly structured parts in a Project and other parts that have no real structure yet, but will eventually be integrated with the rest.

New Outliner for OSX

I was beaten by Welcome to Isherwood to a review of "Outlinely," a very interesting outlining application with a relatively stupid name. As always, of Welcome to Isherwood review is thorough and to the point.

There are only three things I have to disagree with:
  • Stephen observes: "Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a keyboard command to unfocus. You’ve got to mouse over to the little magnifying glass in the bottom left corner and click." Well ... there is, but it is in a weird place. Whereas Focus is under the "Outline" Menu, Undo focus (or Function Key + Z) is the first item under the "Edit" Menu (at least when you are in focus-mode; when you are in normal edit mode, the first item is Undo). The program seems to get confused after you have edited in focus mode. For then Function Key + Z does undo. And to get it "unconfused you do need to press the "Unfocus" button at the left bottom on the screen. Pressing the Escape key in focus Mode will also get you out of that view.
  • Stephen observes, there is no help file, but there is in a help outline in my version that is not unhelpful.
  • The problems Stephen notes with regard to notes disappears, if you realize that you have to hit return twice at the end of a note to get out of a note.{1]
Outlinely has no "Save as," but you can save a copy and rename it.

The application clearly needs more work, but it represents an excellent start (as Stephen also points out). One of the first things I would like to know is how to add "smart links" (or at least have explained to me what is meant by the phrase).

1. You should take a look at the refreshed review rather than the one I mention here, as the errors i note here, have been fixed in it.

Friday, March 28, 2014


This application is promising. But you need Alfred. Nor is the free version enough. You must install the Powerpack (for 17.00 pounds)

There are other promising workflows as well.

How "Free" is MS OneNote

I have always balked at the advertisements that promise "free gifts" because if it isn't free, it isn't a gift either. The expression represents a pleonasm. Now, Micro Soft is not into giving "free gifts" at all. Though OneNote is said to be "free," it is only a crippled version that is offered without payment. As you can read here, if you want to have a notebook on your computer, you need to "subscribe to Office to continue using this notebook.” And that is $9.99 a month ... please.

It is O.K., of course, to have a crippled free version and a premium version for which you have to pay. It's an old business model in software. But $9.99 a month is a bit steep, and it would be good, if Micro Soft was more up front about what is going on. Not that any of this bothers me very much, as I have never been impressed with OneNote's Notebook system that forces you to put notes into container-like topics. It seems to me, and please pardon my French, "back-arsewards."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kierkegaard on Productivity

I have written about productivity before. Here is a quote by Sören Kierkegaard on the same phenomenon:
There is an indefatigable activity that shuts a person out of the world of spirit and places him in a class with the animals, which instinctively must always be in motion. There are people who have an extraordinary talent for transforming everything into a business operation, whose whole life is a business operation, who fall in love and are married, hear a joke, and admire a work of art with the same businesslike zeal with which they work at the office.
Is that a way to live? I don't think so. Therefore, my advice: keep "productivity" out of life. It's best left in the office.

No further comment!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Exchanging Nibs on a Rotring Newton 600

Strictly speaking the Newton is not a 600 at all, even though it is often, as a matter of course, referred to as a "600 new style." This makes some sense, as there is also a new Newton that morphed into the Parker Facet. The last pen seems to have a bad reputation among Rotring enthusiasts. I believe this reputation is unjustified, as it is actually an interesting fountain pen that also writes very well. But be that as it may, I don't want to talk about the different makes of Rotring here. Rather, I would like to say something about how to exchange the nibs of the Newton 600 with other nibs.

There is a lot of misinformation about what nibs the 600s take. If you search the "fountain pen network" for "Rotring" and "nib," you will see what I mean. So, let me make one thing clear from the outset. What I say does not hold for the old-style 600s. They have different nibs, and I don't know where to get these (or what other Rotring Pens have the same nib).

There are still some nibs for the Newton on the German eBay site (for about $10.00). There are also nibs for the Esprit. They also fit. I also know that the nibs of the Rotring Freeway and Esprit, available for between $25.00 and $40.00 on eBay can be freely exchanged with the newer 600 (a.k.a. Newton). In both pens, the the nib is friction fit. It easily pulls straight out from the feed section and it can easily be pushed into the feed section of other pen. I have done this several times and, in particular, have transformed medium-nibbed Newtons 600 into fine-nibbed ones. (I have not exchanged gold nibs, however, and I do not know whether the nibs have the same design.)

Other newer pens by Rotring have very different nibs and cannot be properly exchanged. In particular, the nibs of the Altro, Initial, the Rivette, the Core, the Skynn, and the Surf are different.[1] I would suppose the same holds for the Rive (but I do not own one of those and have not checked). I am not saying that these nibs might not perhaps be jammed into the Newton 600, but only that this does not seem to be a good idea to me, that I would not do it, and that it will in all likelihood lead to problems.

To say it again, the nibs for Freeways and Esprits are interchangeable with the Newton 600. Since the pens are still to be had at a reasonable price, they can reasonably be viewed as sources for "back-up" nibs. And, don't believe everything you read on the fountain pen network on this topic.

1. The "Surf" has really nothing but the name in common with Rotring. It truly is a "Sanford." This does not mean that is not a good inexpensive pen. It only means that it is not even the last in the lines of Rotrings.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reviews of Rotring Pencils

There is a series of very thorough and (thus) informative reviews of Rotring Drafting Pencils at the Pens and pencils blog:
There is no review of the 500 which has a metal grip section and top, like the 600, and a plastic barrel, like the 300. I think it might well be the best deal of all of them.

The last post explains the relationship between the different kinds of pencils:
The rotring 300 is rotring's entry level pencil in the numbered series of pencils. The next up is the 500, then the best known of the series, the 600 followed by the rapid PRO and then the top of the line 800. At one time, when the pencils were made in Germany there was a 400 and a 700 in the series. However these are no longer produced and fetch a pretty penny when found. The rapid PRO, cost wise, fits in between the 600 and the 800. This sort of fills the gap left by the out of production 700. There does not appear that there is a replacement for the 400.

I own at least one pencil of each category, namely 300, 500, Rapid Pro, and 800. These are all 0.7mm. As I do little drafting, the 0.35 (or 0.3, they are the same) is useless to me, and I do find the 0.5 is still to thin for writing. However, none of these is my favorite pencil for underlining, note-taking, and writing . I like the Newton mechanical pencil, often referred to as a 600 (which is, however, false):

It also is a 0.7mm. And I prefer F or H for hardness, as HB or B smudges far too easily.

The prices demanded nowadays are outrageous. I bought three black and one silver pencil for the same price that people now want for one.[1]

1. There are also Rotring "wannabes". I count among those the TWSBI Precision, the Retro 1951 Hex-O-Matic, also reviewed in the blog mentioned, and, of course the Redcircles which come in every size as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Maxthink Help File

The old help file for Maxthink (DOS) is available as a PDF here. It's an interesting "read," even if you may not be interested in the Windows version of the program. I liked the DOS version, and I even subscribed to Neil Larson's Newsletter.

No further comment!

Cornell Notes and Staples' Arc Project Planner

The Cornell note-taking system is widely recommended by people who seem to know. The idea behind it is simple. You divide the page into three areas, one for the notes, the other for key points and themes, and at the bottom you note the kinds of things you would like to review, like so

It turns out that the Arc System by Staples provides you with a Project Planner Refill that uses almost the same layout (though it uses different tiles):

It's more expensive than the sheets you would draw yourself, but using the Arc refills won't break the bank.[1] I recommend them. You can also use them with the CVS Caliber System that works like Arc System. Furthermore, they can also be used with the more expensive Levenger Circa System.[2]

1. See also the earlier post on Atoma notebooks. The CVS version is difficult to find on the net, but they can be found in CVS stores. In my experience the paper (and other implements of the Arc and Caliber systems are interchangeable. I have not tried the Levenger Circa system, but I see no reason for it not to work. For a price comparison of the three systems, see here. It's from last year. Prices of the CVS system seem to have gone up slightly.

2. March 9, 2014: It turns out that the Levenger Circa Rhodia Meeting Refill also would fill the bill, though the layout is slightly different, it has the same elements:

See Amazon.