Monday, December 28, 2015


I usually do not make decisions lightly; and I did reflect for a long time on whether to discontinue "Taking Note" before I posted my last post. I have an even harder time reversing decisions after I have made them. But, given the significant and thoroughly positive response I received during the last two days in the comment section of this blog, in some forums, and by private communication, I will give the matter some more thought. These reactions certainly outweigh the rude insults made by one pseudonymous individual. I will let you know whether I will continue within the next two weeks.

If I continue, I will either disable comments altogether, or, more likely, turn on verification.

Thank you very much for all the support.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The End

This will be the last post on this blog of mine. I enjoyed posting for the longest time, and I know that some of the more than 780,000 visitors over the last eight years have also enjoyed some of my posts. But the posting has become more burdensome of late. I never expected to be thanked for my efforts, as I mainly did them for my own benefit to figure out what I thought about some of the things important to me. But I did not expect to be accused and insulted by someone hiding behind a pseudonym either. It takes away from the pleasure of writing in this form. I don't need this.

But, as I said before, thanks to everyone who has been following this blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Maxthink, One More Time

I have written before about Maxthink, one of the early outline processors, well on the way towards hypertext. I really liked the program and regret I no longer have a copy. Somehow, I never took to the Windows version. In this, I am similar to the author of the blog "The Aware Writer," who, I was very sad to notice, passed away earlier this year. His posts on how to run the DOS version of MaxThink on a modern operating system did inspire me. See here.

I did not know the man, but I will miss his blog! I suppose that is a way of saying that I will miss him.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Is Hypertext an Abstract Painting?

It's precisely--well, I don't know whether "precisely" applies here. The post in some ways about Esperanto and in others about Hypertext. I am not sure I understand all or even most of what goes on, but it does seem interesting and it certainly is suggestive.

If you know what I mean: "Abstraction is the metaphor of the informal structure of hyperlinks that exists not only in the digital world but also enters in our imagination and influences and changes our way of thinking."

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Dyanote advertises itself as "your personal hypertext." Furthermore, "traditional note taking applications allow you to search notes and organize them with tags and buckets. Dyanote solves this problem on a different level: instead of a bunch of messy notes you’ll have an organic document reflecting the connections your mind created."

Obviously, this appeals to me. It is (going to be) a personal wiki, but I actually like the expression "personal hypertext" better. I would also describe my favorite application, ConnectedText, as my "personal hypertext.[1]

Dyanote is said to have been inspired by Tomboy, but it seems to be designed as a Web application by a 23 year-old programmer located near Bologna, Italy. While Dyanote is still a bit rough around the edges, it seems to be worthwhile to follow. There have not been many developments in "personal hypertext" lately. In any case, I would like there to be more!

1. "PHP" actually means "Personal Hypertext Processor" or ""Personal Hypertext Processor," so the notion of "personal hypertext" is at least as old as PHP. But Berners-Lee et. alii reported in 1994 that there conception of the World Wide Web originated from the "positive experience of a small home-brew personal hypertext used to keep track of personal information ..." As everyone reading this blog knows, I am motivated by a similarly positive experience with "personal hypertext" for my academic note-taking.

Coleridge's Lapdesk

It's for sale.[1] See here. See also Analag Laptops and Writing Box.

No further comment!

1. Also interesting: Melville's Travel Desk.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Introduction to Luhmann's Zettelkasten?

I just came across Introduction to Luhmann's Zettelkasten-Thinking. I agree with the author, Daniel Luedecke, on many things, but there are also many things I find questionable. Most of these have to do with the parallels between his Luhmann's usage of his card index and the principles behind the software by Luedecke. I still believe that Luedecke over-emphasize the importance of keywords. Under "Luhmann‘s Principle of Organizing his Zettelkasten," he lists "no categories," Linkage/Reference," "Tagging and Register," and then "Arbitrary Branching of Note Sequencing." While Luhamann had a register and sometimes used tags, he used direct linking as the main connecting organizing principle, as Luedecke also admits. In fact, tags were not even of secondary or tertiary importance, as far as I can see. And the register served just as a point of entering the net of links. Furthermore, the arbitrary branching is a direct result of Luhmann's conception of the links. It has nothing to do with registers and tags.

I don't know why Ludecke thinks that ConnectedText, which he lists under "Principles of Managing Notes: Links / References," has two problems, namely "Selective or specific retrieval of notes difficult" and "Limited scope of linkage, or at least impractical workflow for “multiple storage” and connections. ConnectedText has a very powerful search engine that allows you to drill down easily from a set of more than 10,000 notes to just two or three. And there is no limitation as to how many links you can create in any one page or the totality of the notes. I can only say I am baffled by these claims, as his "problems" are actually strengths of the program.

But, perhaps more importantly, it appears that Luedecke's Zettelkasten slows down considerably after just 1200 notes. As the author of this blog post says: "I am here with over 1200 Zettel and I am captured in this software. ... I want to change the software because searching became very slow." Daniel Luedecke answered: "I must admit that searching the database (Zettelkasten) is not extreme fast. One
reason is that I don’t use an underlying SQL database. But even with plain text search, performance might be increased. I’ll dig into this when I find some time."

I wonder what the performance would be with more than 10,000 notes, or even with 90,000 (which is sometimes claimed was Luhmann's number of notes). I am too old to ever reach 90,000 notes, but some people who read this won't be. Whatever other strengths Daniel Luedecke's software has--and I must say I find it intriguing--it does not come even close to replacing Luhmann's partner of communication because 1,200 notes are not even enough for the "critical mass" needed for fortuitous discoveries. On the basis of this alone, I would disqualify it as a serious contender in the note-taking field.

It might be said that even the best applications of today won't be around in, say ten or twenty years. I agree that this is probably true. Therefore, the ability of exporting one's notes from any program is important. Luedecke's program can do that. It "includes several plain text formats like CSV, Markdown or plain Text (or even LaTex, XML and HTML)." There are other popular note-taking programs that are woefully inadequate in this regard.

I really hope that Luedecke will be able to implement a database solution. Oh ... and the set of slides is interesting, not just for some of the copies of Luhmann's slips.[1]

1. I have said nothing about the notion of "Zettelkasten-thinking," as I don't think there is such a thing. I have written before about "Zettelkasten-writing." It is not considered to be a good thing. See here. My thesis advisor used to criticize books and articles, in which he (you) could tell where one index card ended and another one started.

Der Bücherwurm or the Bookworm

Click on picture to enlarge.

The Bookworm by the German Painter Carl Spitzweg is one of my favorites. I know that Spitzweg is not one of the greatest painters and that some of his paintings, including this one, have risen to the high level of German Kitsch. Still, I like it. A reproduction of this picture hangs at the entrance to my collection of books at home. Note that the librarian is standing under the section called "Metaphysica."

Blumenberg's Zettelkästen

I have written about Blumenberg and his critiques of Luhmann before. Here is a picture of what his Zettelkästen--yes, he was German, even though he had every reason not to be--looked (look) like.

Click on picture to enlarge!

My Zettelkasten for the dissertation that I wrote between 1996 and 1999 looks somewhat similar, though I used a smaller format (DIN-A 7: 74mm x 105mm). I promise I will post a picture after the holidays. It's archived in the office.

Der Büchernarr or the Bibliomaniac

Is that really me in a previous incarnation?

Click on picture to enlarge!

Perhaps--though I'd really like to think I was always a Bibliophile!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Serendipities and Sudden Illuminations

Serendipity is an interesting concept I have discussed before. It has to do with fortuitous connections one discovers in one's notes or even in the stacks of libraries. It is also sometimes makes an appearance in studies of creativity, though usually under a different guise. Arthur Koestler argued in The Act of Creation of 1964 that this is best explained by "the bisociation of matrices" or the juxtaposition of formerly unrelated ideas. As he put it,
The moment of truth, the sudden emergence of a new insight, is an act of intuition. Such intuitions give the appearance of miraculous flashes, or short-circuits of reasoning. In fact they may be likened to an immersed chain, of which only the beginning and the end are visible above the surface of consciousness. The diver vanishes at one end of the chain and comes up at the other end, guided by invisible links.
"The basic bisociative pattern of the creative synthesis [is] the sudden interlocking of two previously unrelated skills, or matrices of thought."

Koestler was obviously indebted to Poincaré's description of mathematical invention, even though he ultimately rejects the latter's account as too mechanistic. For Poincaré such mathematical inventions are based on conscious choices:
How to make this choice I have before explained; the mathematical facts worthy of being studied are those which by their analogy with other facts, are capable to lead us to the knowledge of mathematical law are just as experimental facts lead us to the knowledge of physical law. They are those which reveal reveal unsuspected kinship between other facts, long known, but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another. Among chosen combinations the most fertile will often be those formed of elements borrowed from domains which are far apart.
The "sudden illuminations" are not magic for Poincaré. Rather, they are the result and "manifest sign of long, unconscious prior work." He believed that "unconscious work is possible, and of a certainty it is only fruitful, if it is on the one hand preceded and on the other hand followed by a period of conscious work."

Luhmann, who was rather suspicious of psychological explanations, also would have disliked Poincaré's account and emphasized "communication between systems", but it would appear to me that the the two accounts are compatible, especially if you view your note-taking system as a non-conscious (not unconscious) extension of yourself. To abuse Koestler's somewhat pretentious formulation: "The basic bisociative pattern of the creative synthesis [can be based on] the sudden interlocking of two previously unrelated ... matrices of thought" that have been noted before in one's note-taking system (or, if you like, your Zettelkasten).[1]

I actually prefer Poincaré's description of the phenomenon, and not just because I think that one's note-taking tools are, at best, extensions of ourselves, not independent communicative systems. In other words, I do not communicate with my ConnectedText projects, but then I use "communicate" in a rather different sense from Luhmann.

1. As I said before, I increasingly dislike "Zettelkasten" in English, even though (or perhaps just because) it is a perfectly good German word for the perfectly good "slip box" in English. But that is probably just me.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gessner Pencil

I am debating with myself whether I should buy one of these pencils as aChristmas present for myself. My scruples have more to do with the notion of "buying a present for yourself" than with the pencil per se.

It is a reproduction of one of the first pencils ever. The original dates from 1526 and mentioned by Gessner in a book about fossils. It takes 5.6 mm lead refills, weighs 0.5 oz, is 6 inches long, and an award winning pencil from Cleo Skribent of Germany. It is made in Germany.

The led is a lot better than that of the original was. Technology has advanced. So, it is usable.

It's available at Amazon: here

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Edward Gibbon on Reading

Here is the entire text of Gibbon's account of how he read, or "Abstract of My Readings, With Reflection":

Dover, March 14th, 1761 -- "Reading is to the mind," said the Duke of Vivonne to Lewis XIV., "what your partridges are to my chops." It is, in fact, the nourishment of the mind; for by reading, we know our Creator, his works, ourselves chiefly, and our fellow-creatures. But this nourishment is easily converted into poison. Salmasius had read as much as Grotius, perhaps more. But their different modes of reading made the one an enlightened philosopher; and the other, to speak plainly, a pedant puffed up with an useless erudition.

Let us read with method, and propose to ourselves an end to which all our studies may point. Through neglect of this rule, gross ignorance often disgraces great readers; who, by skipping hastily and irregularly from one subject to another, render themselves incapable of combining their ideas. So many detached parcels of knowledge cannot form a whole. This inconstancy weakens the energies of the mind, creates in it a dislike to application, and even robs it of the advantages of natural good sense.

Yet, let us avoid the contrary extreme; and respect method, without rendering ourselves its slaves. While we propose an end in our reading, let not this end be too remote; and when once we have attained it, let our attention be directed to a different subject. Inconstancy weakens the understanding: a long and exclusive application to a single object hardens and contracts it. Our ideas no longer change easily into a different channel, and the course of reading to which we have too long accustomed ourselves, is the only one that we can pursue with pleasure.

We ought besides, to be careful, not to make the order of our thoughts subservient to that of our subjects; this would be to sacrifice the principal to the accessory. The use of our reading is to aid us in thinking. The perusal of a particular work gives birth, perhaps, to ideas unconnected with the subject of which it treats. I wish to pursue these ideas; they withdraw me from my proposed plan of leading, and throw me into a new track, and from thence, perhaps, into a second, and a third. At length I begin to perceive whither my researches tend. Their result, perhaps, may be profitable; it is worth while to try: whereas, had I followed the high road, I should not have been able, at the end of my long journey, to retrace the progress of my thoughts.

This plan of reading is not applicable to our early studies, since the severest method is scarcely sufficient to make us conceive objects altogether new. Neither can it be adopted by those who read in order to write; and who ought to dwell on their subject till they have sounded its depths. These reflections, Sections, however, I do not absolutely warrant. On the supposition that they are just, they may be so, perhaps, for myself only. The constitution of minds differs like that of bodies. The same regimen will not suit all. Each individual ought to study his own.

To read with attention, exactly to define the expressions of our author, never to admit a conclusion without comprehending its reason, often to pause, reflect, and interrogate ourselves; these are so many advices which it is easy to give, but difficult to follow. The same may be said of that almost evangelical maxim of forgetting friends, country, religion, of giving merit its due praise, and embracing truth wherever it is to be found.

But what ought we to read? Each individual must answer this question for himself, agreeably to the object of his studies. The only general precept that I would venture to give, is that of Pliny,[1] "to read much, rather than many things;" to make a careful selection of the best works, and to render them familiar to us by attentive and repeated perusals. Without expatiating on the authors so generally known and approved, I would simply observe, that in matters of reasoning, the best are those who have augmented the number of useful truths; who have discovered truths, of whatever nature they may be: in one word, those bold spirits, who quitting the beaten tract, prefer being in the wrong alone, to being in the right with the multitude. Such authors increase the number of our ideas, and even their mistakes arc useful to their successors. With all the respect due to Mr. Locke, I would not, however, neglect the works of those academicians, who destroy errors without hoping to substitute truth in their stead. In works of fancy, invention ought to bear away the palm; chiefly that invention which creates a new kind of writing; and next, that which displays the charms of novelty, in its subject, characters, situations, pictures, thoughts, and sentiments. Yet this invention will miss its effect, unless it be accompanied with a genius, capable of adapting itself to every variety of the subject; successively sublime, pathetic, flowery, majestic, and playful; and with a judgment which admits nothing indecorous, and a" style which expresses well whatever ought to be said. As to compilations, which are intended merely to treasure up the thoughts of others, I ask whether they are written with perspicuity, whether superfluities are lopped off, and dispersed observations skilfully collected; and agreeably to my answers to those questions, I estimate the merit of such performances.

When we have read with attention, there is nothing more useful to the memory than extracts. I speak not of those collections, or adversaria, which may be serviceable in their own way, but of extracts made with reflection, such as those of Photius, and of several of our modern journalists. I purpose in this manner to give an account to myself of my reading. My method will vary with the subject. In works of reasoning, I will trace their general plan, explain the principles established, and examine the consequences deduced from them. them. A philosopher is unworthy of the name, whose work is not most advantageously viewed as a whole. After carefully meditating my subject, the only liberty I shall take, is that of exhibiting it under an arrangement different perhaps from that of my author. Works of fancy contain beauties, both of plan and of execution: I shall be attentive to both. History, if little known, deserves an abridgment. I shall extract such particulars as are new. Throughout, I shall give my opinion with becoming modest)', but with the courage of a man unwilling to betray the rights of reason. In this compilement, I shall collect my scattered thoughts, with the reflections of every sort that occur in my search for truth. For I shall continue to search for the truth, though hitherto I have found nothing but probability.

No further comment!

1. Plinii Secundi Epist. lib. vii. epist. ix

Edward Gibbon on Commonplace Books

The famous historian of The Decline and Fall of the Roma Empire kept commonplace books early in his life, that is from 1755 until he decided to use a method of abstracting
The various readings which I now conducted with skill and discretion was digested according to the precept and model of Mr. Locke into a large Commonplace book, a practice however which I do not strenuously recommend. The action of the pen will doubtless imprint an idea on the mind as well on the paper; but I question whether the benefits of this laborious method are adequate to the waste of time, and must agree with Dr. Johnson, 'that twice read is commonly better remembered as what is transcribed.'[1]
Locke's commonplace books are discussed in these entries. One of the reasons why Gibbon felt mere excerpts are a "waste of time" is that he later opted for a method of abstracts or "extracts made with reflection":
When we have read with attention, there is nothing more useful to the memory than extracts. I speak not of those collections, or adversaria, which may be serviceable in their own way, but of extracts made with reflection, such as those of Photius, and of several of our modern journalists. I purpose in this manner to give an account to myself of my reading. My method will vary with the subject. In works of reasoning, I will trace their general plan, explain the principles established, and examine the consequences deduced from them. them. A philosopher is unworthy of the name, whose work is not most advantageously viewed as a whole. After carefully meditating my subject, the only liberty I shall take, is that of exhibiting it under an arrangement different perhaps from that of my author. Works of fancy contain beauties, both of plan and of execution: I shall be attentive to both. History, if little known, deserves an abridgment. I shall extract such particulars as are new. Throughout, I shall give my opinion with becoming modesty, but with the courage of a man unwilling to betray the rights of reason. In this compilement, I shall collect my scattered thoughts, with the reflections of every sort that occur in my search for truth. For I shall continue to search for the truth, though hitherto I have found nothing but probability.[2]
The language may be a bit quaint or outdated, the principles are still sound, or so I would argue. They more or less describe my method of summarizing (as inspired by Luhmann).

1. Memoirs of the Life and Writing of Edward Gibbon. Edited, with Introduction and Notes by Oliver Farrar Emerson (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1898), p. 81.
2. The Miscelleneous Works of Edward Gibbon, Esqu., Memoirs of His Life and Writings, Composed by Himself. Illustrated from His Letters, with occasional Notes and Narrative by John, Lord Sheffield (London, 1837), p. 398. It's available on the Internet: here.

Metaphors We Live By

The Microsoft Whitepaper on the Benefits of OneNote states that
The user interface is specifically designed to look like a 3-ring binder, complete with tab dividers. Users can divide the notebook into multiple topics and subtopics for the various types of information they want to record and save. Workers have all the advantages of an old fashioned notebook binder with the additional advantages of being able to copy information from one section to another, to do full-text search, to find and share information easily, to annotate text, to grab information from other Office programs or from the Web, to flag key items, and even to record and play back audio notes.[1]
This describes the interface well. You do have "all the advantages" of a familiar look: a three-ring binder. Obviously, it goes beyond the physical notebook, allowing search, annotation, etc. But you also have some of the disadvantages of an old-fashioned technology. You have to put the information somewhere, i.e. into a specific "notebook," a specific "page" and somewhere on the specific page. But there is no "where" in the spatial sense in an electronic application. So, it would be better to do away with the notebook metaphor altogether.

What would that look like? I could point toward a wiki, but I don't have to. See Notational Velocity or nvAlt on the Mac:

You just type a name of the note (or the first line of the note), and away you go. You can also link files and assign categories. The interface does not get into the way, asking you "where" to store the information.

I recently talked about info-base which has the same affordances. See here

As everyone knows, I prefer the wiki approach which is just as simple. You just type some expression enclosed by double brackets, and away you go. Apparently, you can do this in OneNote as well, but I am not sure. In any case, if you can and if you could get rid of the notebook interface, I could perhaps be persuaded to use it.

Now, I agree that OneNote does not look as garish as this,

but it still gets in the way--especially when navigating from one note to another by its means.[2] And, as I claimed before, (for me) this might work with relatively few notes, but it becomes increasingly less workable the more notes you have. I understand that others might get a different mileage. Microsoft obviously thinks so, in any case.

1. White Paper

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Card Index, Kartei, Slip Box, or Zettelkasten: What are the Differences?

The short answer, there really are none, if you are looking at electronic implementations of them. Their physical implementations differ insofar as card indexes (Kartei, Karteikasten, etc.) use card stock, whereas slip boxes or Zettelkästen) employ lees durable paper. Luhmann, one of the people who used paper, chose it because it took up much less space than card stock and was much cheaper--especially since he used the backs of letters, bills, etc. cut in half to DinA 5 size for his Zettelkasten.

All that is irrelevant to an electronic version of card indexes. What is more relevant is how these applications categorize their contents. It could be alphabetical, numerical, a combination of the two, or systematic. Anyone of these will work, though, as most of the readers of my blog will know, I think the best way to implement such an electronic version is by dispensing with all such organization and use a hypertextual approach. But, however, that may be, there is nothing magical about "Zettelkasten." It just means slip box, no more, no less.

There are some applications that are not well designed to implement slip boxes (or whatever you want to call them), and those are applications that emulate notebooks (like Circus Ponies Notebook or OneNote, for instance). The note-book metaphor seems to go against the very nature of a slipbox.[1] I cannot imagine how you could easily navigate the different notes once you reach 10,000 or more. This is one of the reason why notebooks of ledgers were abandoned in favor of card catalogs in libraries, for instance. And this is why the metaphor of a card box (database) is superior to that of a notebook when you need to deal with huge amounts of data. (My imagination may, however be just too limited to see how organization by notebooks might be superior, though I do not think so.)

1. Added later: Since these might also be based on databases, they may be quite capable at performing searches, but the way "stuff" is organised gets in the way (at least for me).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Writing Sheds

Talking about wasting time (or life--it comes to the same), here is a mildly interesting Website on Famous Writers' Small Writing Sheds and Off-the-Grid Huts.

They seem to be for people who need fewer books than I do when writing. I do wish some time that I never had to consult a book again after first reading it and taking notes of the salient points. But in writing and constructing arguments that change my point of view on the book, I find I have to consult it again (and again) ...

Be sure to read the comments as well!

Wasting Life and Taking Notes

Chuck Palahniuk has one of his characters in the novel Lullaby reflect that the "best way to waste your life is by taking notes." I would tend to agree, on the face of it. If life is to be wasted, and I have a feeling that most of it is going to be wasted anyway, then taking notes (and reflecting on this activity) is one of the better ways to accomplish the task.

Now, that is obviously not how the character considers it. This is clear from how he goes on identifying this approach with "the easiest way to avoid living": It "is to just watch. Look for the details. Report. Don't participate. Let Big Brother do the singing and dancing for you. Be a reporter. Be a good witness. A grateful member of the audience".[1]

A similar point is made by Bernard Williams, who disagreed with Socrates's claim that the unreflected life is not worth living and claimed that "the only serious enterprise is living, and we have to live after reflection ... we have to live during it as well." Williams's point has the the same problem. From the claim that living is the only serious enterprise, it does not follow that reflection should not be a serious part of that enterprise as well.

In any case, the rejection of the latter claim would need more argument than he provides.[2] I think he is just as wrong as his Socrates. So, the unreflected life may well be worth living. Someone with Alzheimer's who lacks the ability to reflect still has a life worth living.[3] But reflection (aided by note-taking) certainly adds another dimension. In the same way, I do not think that "taking notes" and "living" are exclusive of each other. Rather, taking notes and life might serve to enhance one another.

One does not have to go as far as Hannah Arendt who claims that "nothing and nobody exists in this world whose very being does not presuppose a spectator" in order to believe that "just watching" and "taking note" is an important part of life. This is not to say that it is always pleasant.

1. The character is Carl (see p. 216). The quote usually gets attributed to Palahniuk himself. But he does not offer it in his own voice, and it would be reasonable not to attribute it to him as his own view (even if this is customary).
2. He does not offer any argument, as far as I can see.
3. Quite apart from the unsavory connotations a life "unworthy of living."

Deleted Posts?

I just found out that the posts about the Zettelkasten on this blog by IainB were not deleted by him. There were two, one after the other, and they were deleted soon after having been posted.

I do not quite understand why or how. I know that Blogger is difficult. You have to prove that you are not a robot. Even I have to do this on my own blog. So, my only explanation is that the entry was submitted, but then not sufficiently authenticated.

I said clearly in my post about IanB's comment that I regretted that the post was deleted (assuming that it was done by him, as that was pretty much the only explanation for me): "The reason for this is that the contribution was first posted in a slightly different form as a comment on My Zettelkasten. Much to my regret, it was, however, deleted again by the author." I am therefore more than taken aback a bit (or surprised and disconcerted) by his suggestion "Maybe the objective is to get clicks or something."

I do not very much care how many clicks I get. I write the blog only because it allows me to clarify some things for myself. And it gratifies me, if other people find it useful or at the very least interesting. I would never have deleted the entry--and not just because he said some complimentary things at the beginning of his post or because I wanted to comment on it.[1] I am a professor of philosophy and encourage reasoned disagreement and spirited discussion. And I welcomed IainB's post for that very reason.

08:20: I have posted the original comment by IainB (Slartibartfast) in the comment section of this post.

1. I do delete spam and insults to me and especially to others.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Is OneNote Your 21st-Century Zettelkasten Pim?

I don't know, but that is what is argued in this interesting contribution to the Donation Coder Forum. You may have noticed that my previous post reacts to some of the requirements that are declared to be mandatory (even before it appeared in the Forum). The reason for this is that the contribution was first posted in a slightly different form as a comment on My Zettelkasten. Much to my regret, it was, however, deleted again by the author.

Since I receive an e-mail from Blogger with the contents of every comment (including those that are later deleted), I had the pleasure of reading this contribution a long time before anyone else.

Obviously we disagree, but perhaps the differences are worth discussing further.

Let me make two comments: (1) I am not sure whether integration with Windows and other Microsoft programs is really that important. I am not sure either how important this OS (or any of the other existing Operating Systems) will be in the next eighty years or so. Nor do I think that e-mail, sound files, and spreadsheets have any essential place in something that emulates index cards. But be that as it may, my orientation is obviously more academic, textual, and stodgy. (2) I am sure that the author is right in claiming that it is an important feature of OneNote that when you type a "[[reference term]], it will search for an existing Note page in any of the Notebooks (only opened ones, I think) with that exact title, and then link to it, but if there is none, then it will automatically create a new Note page with that title, at the bottom of the section you are currently in, so that you can put in any relevant text later, but meanwhile it leaves you in the text where you were currently writing. These hyperlinked (wiki-like) pages can be moved around and OneNote will keep track of them. If the user is unsure whether "reference term" is correct for an existing hyperlinked Note title, then a search within OneNote for all or some of the terms in "reference term", will find them, with any OneNote page titles bearing the terms being listed first in the search results, which makes it easy to find them." In fact, any good wiki will allow you to do this. And this is one of the main reasons why I do love ConnectedText, for instance.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thoreau on Reading

"To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written." Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Couldn't agree more! The same thing holds of writing notes based on reading.

No further comment!

What I don't Like about OneNote

OneNote is by all accounts a very capable application. I tried it and I don't like it. My dislike has to do, in part, with its skeumorphism which, as far as I concerned, goes both too far and not far enough. I dislike the way it aspires to look like a paper notebook with different pages. Even more do I dislike the fact that you have to "put" notes on "pages" the way you would paste a post-it notes on pages in notebooks (which you can then move around, etc., on that page). I find this disconcerting. I would prefer, if the notes were firmly on the page, like in a paper notebook. On the other hand, I think the organization according to "pages" (which really are not pages at all) should be eliminated. All this is, I grant you, very subjective. It's just me.

One thing that is not subjective is how OneNote forces you to use a OneDrive account to use it. (At the very least, this is true of the Mac version of it which I used last). See here:

Nor do I approve of the way in which OneNote is intended to integrate with the Microsoft Ecosystem. Apart from MS Windows, I don't have any other Microsoft application on my computer. It is, of course, a Microsoft application, and Microsoft has every right to enforce this approach, just as I have every right to reject it.

I should perhaps add that Wysiwyg editing that is available in OneNote leaves me completely cold. I know that it is important to many people who dislike the wki-approach. So be it.

Also, my notes don't have to be both client-based and web-based, I don't need formatting, images, links, etc. from web-page capture to be retained, OLE editing, OCR, Excel Spreadsheets, MS-Outlook exchange (the last two should be obvious after what I said before, but ...).

As I said at the beginning, OneNote is a very capable application, and I do understand why many people do like it. It's just not for me.

Should I say that this rant was occasioned by recent and not-so-recent comments? Yes, it was!

Should I point out that I do not consider this rant as a thorough review of the program? Probably not, as this is obvious.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Zettelkasten

I have written many times about Luhmann's Zettelkasten (see Luhmann on "Taking Note"). I have also written many times on ConnectedText and how I use it as a Zettelkasten (just click on ConnectedText or Zettelkasten in the word cloud). But I have never explicitly made clear how the approach I take in ConnectedText is related to that of Luhmann's. Here it is.

I believe the most central aspect of Luhmann's Zettelkasten was the radical rejection of hierarchical organization as you might find it today in outliners, for instance where the information is arranged under headings, like so:

   objective idealism
   subjective idealism
etc., etc. 

Instead, Luhmann opted for a non-hierarchical organization by giving every note (Zettel) a unique number that corresponded and indicated the physical place of the note (Zettel) in the boxes in which they were stored. This is in some ways like the call numbers according to which libraries organize their book collections, like the Dewey decimal system or, better, that of faceted classification by Ranganathan.

This approach allowed him both to refer to each of the notes by a fixed number and to find the physical piece of paper by its location in the Zettelkasten. So 1 was followed by 2, 3, 4, etc. His convention allowed him to have have several notes that continue any note. So 1/1 and 1/2 continue 1. Obviously, an electronic version of the Zettelkasten that has no built-in limitation on the length of notes can do without such continuations (but it does not have to do without continuations either).[1] Daniel Luedecke's Zettelkasten sports "Folgezettel" or "continuations." They seem to implement that feature.

Secondly, Luhmann's approach allowed him to branch off any topic that seemed necessary to him. So, a note on "objective idealism" could branch to both "idealism" or "transcendental idealism" or "subjective idealism." Luhmann indicated branches by letters (a, b, c etc.). Combinations of continuations, branches, and continuations of branches could lead to expressions that are just as forbidding as the call numbers of library books. There are no limits to the number of physical objects you can refer to by these scheme. Luhmann's system is a freely expandable collection of interlinked notes. It resembles a hypertext system for storing and modifying information where each page is easily reachable from any notes. It is as well as you could do in a paper-based system, I would say.

How Luhmann actually assigned numbers is not important, as far as I am concerned. It was important for his physical implementation of the Zettelkasten. It is far less important for an electronic version as a database in which every record automatically gets assigned a number already. If you decide to use a non-database version by implementing it in plain text, for instance, you need fixed numbers again. But the exact time and date of when the note was taken might be sufficient (see Christian Tietze's approach for this, i.e. search for him in this blog and follow the links).

I have decided for a database or a personal wiki which is "a freely expandable collection of interlinked ... 'pages,' a hypertext system for storing and modifying information — a database, where each page is easily" reachable from any other page.[2]Furthermore, the notes which are static in a paper system are freely editable.

You reach any note simply by enclosing the name of the note by double brackets, like so "[[objective idealism]]". In other words, you can directly link to any other page directly. And without the interference of numbers, as Tietze's system still seems to oblige you to do, or the interference of keywords or tags, as Luedecke's Zettelkasten and many other note-taking applications require you to do. Let my quote Caulfield again:
At the heart of wiki is a simple idea that names matter. Page names in wiki are not locations. They aren’t a place where a document lives. Names identify ideas, patterns, theories, and data in wiki that can be recombined with other ideas, patterns, theories, and data to make complex meaning not expressible in a normal text.

If you’ve ever had a good wiki experience, you know what this feels like in practice. Groping towards an idea on one page you realize its relation to another page and quickly make a [[Bracketed Link]] or CamelCaseAssociation to pull that idea into your web. But most non-wiki environments frustrate this fluidity. They don’t want to know the name of the page — they want to know its location, which is like asking someone to give up using variables in their code and start addressing memory directly. It can be done, but it is going to kill your flow.
The same holds for having to add reference numbers or key words. They break the flow, slow you down and get between you and the ideas, patterns and theories--or so I would hold.

I have nothing against tags or categories per se. ConnectedText, the personal wiki software I use, allows you to freely assign as many as you want. But they are not the primary way of organizing your stuff. The same could be said of numbering schemes. Nor do I have anything against search. ConnectedText has a very capable search engine. But, again, I would not want to have to have to rely on search alone to navigate a system of 10,000 notes, or more.

In any case, as I have said many times before, I believe a personal wiki, or, more generally, a personal hypertext system best captures the spirit of Luhmann's system because it allows names to "identify ideas, patterns, theories, and data in wiki that can be recombined with other ideas, patterns, theories, and data to make complex meaning not expressible in ... normal text." It is no accident that many people discussing Luhmann's Zettelkasten have characterized it as a precursor to hypertext.

I should perhaps add that I consider my approach in no way as the alleinseligmachende (or exclusively salvatory) approach to note-taking. It may, indeed, be just my highly idiosyncratic way of doing things. So, take my advice (just as the advice of anyone else) cum grano salis.

1. I do believe that if you write more than 500 words, you are usually not going on in the same way on the same subject, but are making different points that deserves a new note.
2. The quote is from Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Albrecht von Haller's Schedulae

Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) was an important scientist of the eighteenth century.[1] His contributions to Botany and Medicine are difficult to under-estimate. He was also a poet of some note.

By all accounts he was an avid reader, who, after reading any book wrote down the most significant contributions he found in it, and summarized its contents. These were called "judicia" or "judgments." later he published these as book reviews. His notes were kept on slips of paper or "schedulae" which he kept wrapped in sheets of paper that formed envelopes which were then tied together with twine. See here. I think the packages are organized by date.

It was not the most effective ways of keeping notes. In fact, I am not sure it was better than the notebook method. His way of keeping notes was clearly indebted to that of Jungius who was warned by Placcius not to use loose slips to organize his research.[2]

1. See Wikipedia on Haller.
2. More about Jungius here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Daniel Luedecke's Zettelkasten, Once Again

I promised to review Daniel Luedecke's Zettelkasten more thoroughly in the future. Given what I just read here, I think I will postpone it. Apparently, searching becomes rather slow "with over 1200 Zettel." I have about 10,000 notes (or Zettel, if you will). I rely heavily on search (with AND, OR, and NOT) in ConnectedText, where searching for simple topics is almost instantaneous.[2] I will wait with a review until this issue has been remedied.[3]

1. See here for previous posts on this software.
2. There are some complaints about slowness by people who create very long or very complex topics that include many parts from different topics. But it appears to me that their approach is incompatible with what one might call Zettelkasten principles. In any case, it is very different from mine. To say it again, my searches are almost instantaneous (in Parallels on a late 2012 Mac Mini with a SSD).
3. There is a promise in the comments that it will be remedied.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Dream I never had

Some people like to live "self-sufficiently" a la Thoreau, far away from everyone else in the Wilderness. The blog and the book Cabin Porn is devoted to this dream:

I have nothing against minimalist dwellings per se, but I need electricity, running water, and considerable space for books. I don't know about people, though.

I came to this site through the review of a book by Howard Axelrod. It's called Point of Vanishing and is his memoir about two years of living in a remote cabin in Vermont.[1] Not for me!

I promise this is the last "dream" post!

1. See Slate.

And another Dream that is no more

I would have done almost anything for this in 1978 when I was writing on the last draft of my dissertation:

I could have picked up one for nothing about two years ago. I didn't. And I don't understand those (young) people who seem to prefer typewriters for writing. (I may have an entry or two about this already. Sorry :))[1]

1. Not everyone will know ... It's an IBM Selectric.

Seen on eBay

To own one of these was a dream of mine. It is no longer. I would not buy it now, even if I had the space and the will to spend almost $3000.00 on it. I now prefer digital solutions like ConnectedText and InfoBase in Windows or nvAlt on the Mac.

I do think it is a shame that they are no longer to be seen in libraries, however.[1]

1. I fully agree to Nicholson Baker's laments in Discards.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

InfoBase 4.6

InfoBase has been updated to version 4.6 (as of today). It allows numbering of older notes by search and replace with macros.

I have also been told that the help files will work in windows 7, if Windows XP's winhlp32.exe is copied into System32 of Windows 7 (haven't tried it).

In any case, it now also comes with HTML help files in both English and German.

InfoBase 4.5 as a Zettelkasten

I have written about InfoBase or Info-Base here when it was at version 1.8. It is now at version 4.5, and I have looked at it again. This time I took a much closer look, and I found that there is more that recommends it than I thought two years ago. And the reason for this is not only that I am over the dissimilarity to Info Select 1.

Click to enlarge!

What you see is a less busy screen, as I turned off the right and left sidebars (or rather, selected "Auto" in Settings). I like this minimalist look better. What I also like is that Info-Base allows you to internally link to other entries, though "link" is not quite the appropriate term, as the links in Info-Base are really searches.[1] An internal link always starts like this "\\". It is followed by the name of the database (or "stack" in Info Select and Info-Base lingo), plus the name of the note as well as some other terms, if this is not sufficient for identifying the note. So, if you create "\\base\22.11.2015", your note list will filter out all other notes, except those which contain the string "22.11.2015", that is, in this case, the note you are "searching for" or "linking to" and the note that originates this search. (It's important to leave no spaces in these expressions, if you would like the link to be clickable.) Nor does the expression "22.11.2015" have to be in the first line of the note for this to work. If you have more references to this expression, the entire cluster will be shown. The Hyperlink can also be created automically by pressing "Ctrl-H".

While I do prefer wikilinks which kick up just one target, I do see that this approach has some advantages, allowing you to see the immediate context of the note you are looking for.

So, how are expressions like " *22112015" created? The answer is: with the very capable Templates editor you can create templates which do this work for you. You can also create entries with added time of day or numbers. Your imagination is the limit. This should appeal to those who like to sort notes by ID, which also "happens to sort them by date ... or by an ID looks like 201511041548, representing 2015-11-04 3:48 p.m."[2]

On the other hand, Info-Base seems to be almost made for a strict or faithful implementation of Luhmann's Zettelkasten. Expressions like "21/3d26g53", for instance can easily be created and searched for. See Luhmann's Zettelkasten for why you might want to.

Search is instantaneous. Info-Base also allows for tags and has many other well-thought-out affordances. I would not say that it has a steep learning curve, but expect to spend some time to learn its ins and outs. It's a deep application. I don't think you can do any better, if you look for a non-wiki implementation of a Zettelkasten in Windows.[3]

If you want formatting, like italics, etc., you have to look elsewhere. But you could, of course, use Markdown.[4]

1. It also does external links of various sorts, of course.
2. See here, for instance.
3. The help files still do not display in Windows 7 as help files. They can, however, be opened with the Sumatra PDF viewer (and I would suppose with any other PDF viewer as well).
4. I am sorry that I mistakenly referred to Info-Base 4.5 as "3.5".

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Luhmann on "Taking Note"

Over the years, I have written many posts on Luhmann and his Zettelkasten. Here is a search of the blog that combines them all.

As you all know, I have decided against a strict or faithful implementation of the Zettelkasten, but have opted for a hypertextual method as implemented on a personal wiki (ConnectedText). I do think, however, that it captures the spirit of Luhmann's system. In fact, I'd like to think that he would use a wiki-like solution as well, if he were alive today. There are other ways of doing this, of course. Daniel Luedecke's Zettelkasten uses mainly tags. I have written about it before, but it has changed a lot since I first wrote about it (see the link above; see also here). Eventually, I will have to write a full review.

Luhmann's Index

Here is a digital copy of Luhmann's index of topics. It is relatively short and thus shows that he used the index to find significant access points into his note-taking system and not as an organizing principle for it.[1] The organization itself was a result of his non-hierarchical designation of individual notes by numbers and letters.[2]

The index has been typed for publication. Luhmann's Index, i.e. the list of the different numbers for main topics, looked like this:

This list is not identical with the list of access points or Schlagwortverzeichnis.

1. See Luhmann's Zettelkasten.
3. See also An Electronic Version.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Collecting Nothing, Again

There is no end to what is collectible, or perhaps better, to what people actually do collect. Her the story of one Jonathan Safran Foer.
He started it when a friend sent him the top sheet of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stack of unused typewriter paper, which inspired him to contact authors and request the blank pages they were going to write on next. He got pages from Richard Powers, Susan Sontag, Paul Auster, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, and others. He even persuaded the director of the Freud Museum in London to hand over the top sheet from a stack of blank paper in Sigmund Freud’s desk. Foer’s unusual hobby illustrates powerfully how the most mundane objects accrue value through their histories. [1]
I am not so sure that these pages are "most mundane objects" that "accrue value through their histories." They are objects that accrue values through the beliefs of those who collect them. There no guarantee that the sheets Foer was sent actually were the blank page on which the author was going to write next. There is only the belief of the collector(s). I agree: "We respond to what we believe are [the] objects’ deeper properties, including their histories." In other words, we respond in these cases to our own illusions. Not all collecting is like that, or so I would like to believe. But then the piece is not so much about collecting as it is about conspicuous consumption which seems to me a different matter altogether.

1. Paul Bloom, "The Lure of Luxury", Boston Review, Monday, November 2, 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cornell Notes

I recently bought a cheap notebook at a Chinese store in Quincy, MA (Kam Man). It seems to be the same kind as the one advertised here. The format is slightly smaller than letter size. It was cheap, that is, around $3.00. The headings on the very first page are in Chinese, but it is perfectly serviceable.

You could do a lot worse. See also Cornell notes in the Staples Arc format.

I wonder why there aren't more notebooks with pre-printed Cornell markings.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Dark Ages of Wiki?

Came across this Website today: AwkiAwki. It describes and praises AwkiAwki as "a light weight wiki" that you should use as your personal wiki. The "you" it addresses is obviously a lot younger than I am. This is clear from the lead: "Wiki seems to be something of the dark ages. They were popular about 10 years ago. So why bother talking about a wiki, let alone installing a wiki?"

I must be from the dark ages as well, even though I agree to the main points as to why one should use a wiki:
  • Hierarchies can get in the way
  • A personal wiki is great for keeping all your notes together

I am not so sure about the minor points:
  • Must be of light weight
  • Wiki data in flat files with plain Markdown-like syntax

But I am sympathetic to these points as well. In fact, I like most of what is said on the page. I would even try AwkiAwki, if I were to use Linux or Unix.[1]

1. Disclaimer: none of this has anything to do with the fact that the Website refers to this blog.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


The OS X 10.10.4 update has added a command line utility that can be used to enable TRIM on third-party SSDs. It's called trimforce. It can be activated through the OS X terminal. You just issue the command:
“sudo trimforce enable” (without quotes, of course)
I had a bit of a problem: because I had set no password on my home machine, the command would do nothing. You do need to set a password for it to work.

In any case, I have been using my old SSD with Thunderbolt for a few days now without problems. Who says Apple isn't listening?[1]

See also here.

1. Oh, and I fixed the Thunderbolt cable on the Thunderbolt display for around $100! (For those who remember my problems with it.) I do know that this is only loosely connected with note-taking.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Caulfield on the "Heart of Wiki"

I came across this passage today:
At the heart of wiki is a simple idea that names matter. Page names in wiki are not locations. They aren’t a place where a document lives. Names identify ideas, patterns, theories, and data in wiki that can be recombined with other ideas, patterns, theories, and data to make complex meaning not expressible in a normal text.

If you’ve ever had a good wiki experience, you know what this feels like in practice. Groping towards an idea on one page you realize its relation to another page and quickly make a [[Bracketed Link]] or CamelCaseAssociation to pull that idea into your web. But most non-wiki environments frustrate this fluidity. They don’t want to know the name of the page — they want to know its location, which is like asking someone to give up using variables in their code and start addressing memory directly. It can be done, but it is going to kill your flow.

What’s more, these frustrate one of the crucial features of wiki practice: they don’t let you link to pages that don’t exist yet. [1]

It describes well why I like a personal wiki for note-taking and rough drafts.

1. Building a Pseudo-Wiki on Tumbler.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Guide to Mechanical Pencils

A Guide to Mechanical Pencils is a thorough and interesting account of why everyone should use mechanical pencils.

No further comment!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ballpoint Pens Are to Blame

In this Atlantic article How the Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive a teacher blames the ballpoint pen for the decline of handwriting. Indirectly, it is also a defense of the the computer.

I like the detailed history of the ballpoint pen. Oh, and did you know that I consider ballpoint pens evil (beelzebub's handmaiden)? If you did not, see here.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Noteslate was promised to be released a long time ago. There seems to be a prototype now. The promise is: it will be "the first pure handwriting device. A device for the Slate platform, a handwritten network for sharing. Discover the potential and simplicity of a monochrome handwriting interface. More personal. More human technology than ever before. Started from the basics" (whatever that means).

It's also supposed to be an e-reader that allows you to annotate the books you read in it, there is nothing about character recognition on the Website, however.

Noteslate looks like an interesting product, even if there is lot of hype. I would pay $199 only if it could translate hand writing into digital text. And I hope it won't just be another Boogie Board Ripoff.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Pencils into Swords--from the department of absolute uselessness.

No further comment!

By way of Lexikaliker.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Look it up on Wikipedia. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, had a serious problem (or so he thought). He often woke up during the night because he had ideas he felt needed to be written down immediately. Since he didn't want to light a candle just to have to extinguish right away again, he devised a nyctograph that allowed him to write a kind of shorthand in the dark. He described it in “The Lady” magazine of October 29, 1891:
Any one who has tried, as I have often done, the process of getting out of bed at 2 a.m. in a winter night, lighting a candle, and recording some happy thought which would probably be otherwise forgotten, will agree with me it entails much discomfort. All I have now to do, if I wake and think of something I wish to record, is to draw from under the pillow a small memorandum book containing my Nyctograph, write a few lines, or even a few pages, without even putting the hands outside the bed-clothes, replace the book, and go to sleep again. … I tried rows of square holes, each to hold one letter (quarter of an inch square I found a very convenient size), and this proved a much better plan than the former; but the letters were still apt to be illegible. Then I said to myself ‘Why not invent a square alphabet, using only dots at the corners, and lines along the sides?’ I soon found that, to make the writing easy to read, it was necessary to know where each square began. This I secured by the rule that every square-letter should contain a large black dot in the N.W. corner. … [I] succeeded in getting 23 of [the square-letters] to have a distinct resemblance to the letters they were to represent. Think of the number of lonely hours a blind man often spends doing nothing, when he would gladly record his thoughts, and you will realise what a blessing you can confer on him by giving him a small ‘indelible’ memorandum-book, with a piece of paste-board containing rows of square holes, and teaching him the square-alphabet.[1]
Obviously, we don't have his problem(s), if only because we have electricity that can be switched on/off easily to operate a light, a tape recorder, a PDA, or whatever.

1. Wikipedia, also has a picture of the device.

Einstein's Zürich Notebook

From the Website by John D. Norton"Einstein's search for general relativity spanned eight years, 1907-1915. Some periods were quiet and some were more intense. The moments when the great transition occurred, came sometime between the late summer of 1912, when Einstein moved from Prague to Zurich, and early 1913. If we could choose one time at which to look over Einstein's shoulder and watch him work on general relativity, it would be this time.

And that is just what we can do. For, found among his papers when Einstein died in 1955 was a small, brown notebook containing his private calculations from just this time. This is the Zurich notebook."

"The notebook has two front covers. Einstein wrote in it in both directions. There is the front cover shown above and first here. It has Helen Dukas, Einstein's secretary's, typed description of the notebook as "Notes for Lectures on Relativity..." If we flip the notebook over, we find a second cover with the word "Relativity" in Einstein's hand." The picture shows the second cover.

Many people filled their notebooks this way, starting one set of notes from the front, and a second one from the back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Evernote--a New Editing Experience?

See here. '"Evernote’s core text editing experience was designed around a framework that was optimized for the platform you were typing on; the Windows editor was purpose-built for Windows, the Mac editor for the Mac platform, and so on. We had an early vision of mobile’s implications on productivity, and highly platform-specific development was the fastest way to address that mobile future, which arrived quicker than we’d even imagined. In the face of rapidly interconnected devices, this framework generally held together well, but it wasn’t completely seamless", the company explains.' Now it is supposed to be completely "seamless."

In my experience the "editing experience" was never that important, as I never used it for writing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Scripto.gram Closed

"Scriptogram will discontinue operation on September 14th, 2015."

Longer version: "We have decided that it’s time for us to face the reality. Due to the lack of time designing and building Scriptogram, we’re looking for someone who’d be interested in taking over the entire ship from us. Code, name, domain, trademark. You name it. The Scriptogram platform will discontinue operation on September 14th, 2015, so please contact us before then."

This means that the pages I published there (to supplement the information given here) will no longer be available. Sorry!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Alphasmart Information

... can be found here. They still work and they have become a lot cheaper.

I'd recommend a Neo or Neo2.

And What about Your Desk?

There is another interesting series of pictures in The Guardian. This time, it is about people's desks, and whether they are messy, clean, or in between. It's nothing like Haruki Murakami's desk, in any case. Notice the pencils!

I'd say mine is in between, even though it is relatively small. (I do my writing by hand and in notebooks on a lap desk, in an easy chair, though I do keep a fountain pen and a mechanical pencil at the computer as well.)

I am not showing it because in the end I believe that the different states of the desk's surface per se are boring. When I visit colleagues in their offices I am more enthralled by the way they change over time. Do they clean them off at regular intervals (like, at the end of the semester)? I do ... or did.

The state of the desk is, of course, important for note-taking--at least to some extent

Friday, August 14, 2015


A personal wiki for Atom. See here.

What they say: "This project is based on the vimwiki package for vim, and strives for basic compatibility with that package. You should be able to point your awiki index to your vimwiki index and it should work just fine! Awiki supports only one wiki, which can be specified in the settings page. Pressing alt-w will open your wiki's index location. This can also be accessed from the main menu under Packages/Awiki/Open Wiki index." It uses free links.

I don't use Atom, so I have not tried it, but I thought someone might find this interesting! Nor have I ever tried Vimwiki. I doubt I ever will. No value judgment, but due to my limitations. I also suspect that the links will be broken when the target of the link is renamed.[1] This seems to be a problem with all wikis that are based in an editor (including nVALt and Notetab).

1. I may be wrong about that. See here. But I am not sure I understand what the author of the blog claims. It may be only that if you change the name of a file on the index page, both the file referred to and the referring links get changed in Vimwiki.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Book on "Zettelkasten Method"

See here. It's in German, however.

No further comment!

Dan Sheffler on "One Thought per Note"

See here. The reference is to this post. But this one on Beatrice Webb might be just as interesting, as might be the one on algorithmic thinking. In fact, the approach to take notes one idea or one "fact" at a time is one of the most basic features of my note-taking approach.

Video on "What is Happening to Luhmann's Zettelkasten?"

Here is a video about the digitization of Luhmann's Zettelkasten at the University of Bielefeld. Alas, it is in German. But some of the pictures may be interesting even if your German is less than perfect.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Penguin Notebooks

As should be abundantly clear from the past posts on this blog, I am a bit of a sucker for unusual notebooks. When I came across Penguin Notebooks, i.e. notebooks that look like Penguin titles, I had to have them.

It turn out, they are sold by Barnes & Noble here in the U.S.

I do already own some by the German publisher Suhrkamp:

My only criticism. They do not have the same format as the book series after which they are modelled. I think I will have the same problem with the Penguin Notebooks.

Some Observations on Notebooks

There is an interesting article by Ian Brown entitled A new year. A new notebook . You should read it.

The article ends with the "observation" or "claim": "We spend most of our lives pointed forward, peering into the future to see what’s coming, planning how we’ll respond. A notebook looks the other way, and knows how all that ended." Perhaps! But however that may be, this passage reminds me of Kierkegaard's quip in an entry in his Journal of 1843, where he finds:
It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. Anf if one thinks over that proposition it becomes more and more evident that life cannot be understood in time simply because at no particular moment can I find the necessary resting-place from which to understand it - backwards."

I am not sure about that alternative either. In any case, even if I agree with Kierkegaard that it is simply false that "life must be understood backwards" (whatever that may mean), old notebooks help me understand what I was concerned with in the past. This understanding is done from the perspective of the present. That's why I find it a good idea to revisit old notebooks every few years.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Gay Talese on Note-Taking

The American journalist and a nonfiction writer, Gay Talese tells us that, "instead of a notepad, I use shirt boards from the dry cleaner. I take a shirt board, and then I get scissors and cut it into note cards that I use like a notepad. I should patent the idea. I usually don’t take notes in front of my subjects; I sneak off and jot down things on these cards. They fit in my suit and don’t stick out like the wires on stupid little journalism pads."

"Exactly. I cut the shirt board into four parts and I cut the corners into round edges, so that they can fit in my pocket [breast pocket of his jackets, that is}. I also use full shirt boards when I’m writing my outlines. I’ve been doing this since the fifties."

Yes, and at night I type out my notes. It is a kind of journal. But not only my notes—also my observations ... my personal observations, what I myself was thinking and feeling during the day when I was meeting people and seeing things and making notes on shirt boards. When I’m typing at night, on ordinary pieces of typing paper, I’m not only dealing with my daily research, but also with what I’ve seen and felt that day. What I’m doing as a researching writer is always mixed up with what I’m feeling while doing it, and I keep a record of this. I’m always part of the assignment. This will be evident to anyone who reads my typed notes."

Besides the cut-up shirt-boards he carries a Montblanc pen or two ... of course.

An interesting way of recycling something that most of us put in the bin in one piece. I am as little tempted to imitate this way of note-taking as I am interested in following his way of dressing.

Does he use a computer? "No, not much. I move my longhand writing to a typewriter, then, at the end, I do use a computer like a typewriter. The only thing I like about the computer is the ease with which I can correct typos. I never begin writing on a computer, however. I want to “feel” the words as I put them on paper with the pointed edge of a sharply pointed pencil."

Too much "feeling" for me!

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Shallows--Again

There is an article in today's New York Times about "Struggling to Disconnect From Our Digital Lives." It starts from the following "premises":
Five years ago, I read a book called “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. He was sounding an alarm. The more time we spend swimming in digital waters, Mr. Carr argued, the shallower our cognitive capacity becomes, and the less control we have over our attention.

At the time, I found these ideas intriguing. Five years later, I’m alarmed.

“The Net,” Carr writes, “is by design an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention. Frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious. The more complex the train of thought we’re involved in, the greater the impairment the distractions cause.”

Or as the economist and Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon put it even more presciently in 1971, “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Who is at fault here? The "digital waters"? Really? It's not like there was no distraction before. If you are distracted it's your own fault, not the fault of the object(s) you are concerned with. And, yes, you have to be attentive to information, but it is simply false that "wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." It's the lack of control over your attention that creates undifferentiated shallowness.

More Note-Taking Principles

A new academic year begins soon. Jerz's Literacy Blog gives some good tips relevant (not just) for students. I especially like number 5: Review and edit your notes.

“Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947), English mathematician and philosopher

Academic skills centers and other authorities on effective study skills consider reviewing and editing class notes to be the most important part of notetaking and essential to increasing learning capacity.
  • It is extremely important to review your notes within 24 hours.
  • Edit for words and phrases that are illegible or don’t make sense. Write out abbreviated words that might be unclear later.
  • Edit with a different colored pen to distinguish between what you wrote in class and what you filled in later.
  • Fill in key words and questions in the left-hand column.
  • Note anything you don’t understand by underlining or highlighting to remind you to ask the instructor.
  • Compare your notes with the textbook reading and fill in important details in the blank spaces you left.
  • Consider rewriting or typing up your notes. (Ellis).[1]
By the way, if my previous post suggested to anyone that I have something against versioning, let me point out here that I am not opposed to it. I prefer applications that have this feature built in, like ConnectedText. Git and other systems are an option as well. But there needs to be a clear difference between different versions. Intermingling new and old versions or drafts is the problem, as far as I am concerned.

1. Some of these tips deal specifically with notes taken on paper, of course.

Tinderbox Principles for All Writers?

This post advertises "Tinderbox Principles" for writers. There is nothing in them that would restrict them specifically to Tinderbox, even though the author claims they are: "Tinderbox is more than just a piece of software–it’s a way of thinking. Adjusting your thinking is a critical aspect (and benefit) of using Tinderbox." I think that , on the contrary, the principles might be taken as advice to all writers, no matter what program they may use. They are: (1) Don't throw anything away, (2) Focus on making it easy to store things (as opposed to easy to retrieve things), (3) Let emergence happen, (4) Don’t fear the docs, (5) Be part of the community.

It's an interesting post, though I am struck by an inherent contradiction or tension between (1) and (2).[1] Thus (1) says that "Storing things, particularly texty things, has become affordable to the point where it’s essentially free. You never know when you’ll need something again. Destructive deletes are forever–why risk it? This is especially true for writers, who are known to squirrel away older drafts, and hang on to entire cut scenes and chapters, which might find some use later." But (2) is inspired by Marie Kondo's fantastic book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. If I understand the main message of the book correctly, it is about the importance of discarding according to category.[2] Information certainly is a category, and clutter or untidiness is just as bad in this category as it would be in any other. But perhaps it is worse, as it leads to sloppy thinking, like the one exhibited in this article. If (2) does not contradict (1), it contradicts at the very least the message of the very book it appeals to.

Tidying up and organizing your thinking may be described as the pursuit of "ultimate simplicity" (135) or as paying attention to the "noise" of written information and attempting to eliminate it.

If someone were to object now: "What do you know ... you have never been able to grasp the Tinderbox way of thinking", I only could plead guilty! But I would hope that this interesting post would not count as an example of this way of thinking.

1. But perhaps I am just bothered by the way this blogger supports a view he holds by appealing to a book that actually endorses an approach incompatible with his.
2. The argument goes something like this: (i) "Many people are stuck in a 20th-century mindset about information storage." (ii) "If your mental model resembles filing cabinets and alphabetized folders: reconsider." (3) "Well-crafted tools like Tinderbox have powerful search facilities. Making things easier to retrieve is no longer the critical path against which to focus your efforts." Therefore (3) "Embrace the tool–the more you put in it, the more useful it becomes. Don’t miss an opportunity to save something you might need later." This is hoarding, not tidying! Refactoring, revising, eliminating incompatible alternatives all seem to me essential parts of note-taking and thinking in general. I would think it also holds for "the Tinderbox way of thinking."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom

Russell Ackoff, a systems theorist and professor of organizational change, classified the contents of the mind into:
  1. Data: symbols
  2. Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to "who", "what", "where", and "when" questions
  3. Knowledge: application of data and information; answers "how" questions
  4. Understanding: appreciation of "why"
  5. Wisdom: evaluated understanding.
Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, Anthony Mills at Systems Thinking arrange these categories on the axes of understanding and connectedness, like this:
This is rather naive view of mental contents. There a many things to quibble about--both in the original version and the version pushed by Bellinger, Castro, and Mills (which is, however, an improvement. Can knowledge really be reduced to the application of data, and is the application of data reducible to "how" questions, for instance? This seems false to me for many reasons. Knowledge without causes ("why?") seems defective. And why is "understanding" supposed to be higher than knowledge? It's certainly not the ordinary use of "understanding," that allow us to say that we understand someone/something intuitively or approximately. Wisdom does not seem to be reducible to better connected knowledge either, etc., etc.

Bellinger, Castro, and Mills describe data as
  • raw. It simply exists and has no significance beyond its existence (in and of itself). It can exist in any form, usable or not. It does not have meaning of itself. In computer parlance, a spreadsheet generally starts out by holding data.
  • information is data that has been given meaning by way of relational connection. This "meaning" can be useful, but does not have to be. In computer parlance, a relational database makes information from the data stored within it.
I could live with these characterizations, but their definition of knowledge as "the appropriate collection of information, such that it's intent is to be useful. Knowledge is a deterministic process. When someone "memorizes" information (as less-aspiring test-bound students often do), then they have amassed knowledge. This knowledge has useful meaning to them, but it does not provide for, in and of itself, an integration such as would infer further knowledge. For example, elementary school children memorize, or amass knowledge of, the "times table" is seriously defective. Memorizing information certainly does not amount to knowledge, even if high schools nowadays (and perhaps always) work on this assumption

Still the graph is suggestive. The question what connectedness has to do with the difference between information and knowledge is interesting and needs to be pursued, though not here and now.[1]

The whole issue obviously has something to do with note-taking which does some work in the transformation of data to information and information to knowledge (no matter how they are defined).

1. I will return to it in later posts.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

More Trouble in Paradise

The Apple App Store Application has not been working for about a month. In fact, it seems to have stopped just after I did the latest "security" update. Today, I restored the OS from a backup made on June 17. Everything worked just fine until I re-installed the the update: "Cannot connect to the App Store" re-appeared. Trying to sign out of my account reliably creates a crash.

I searched the Internet. Apple is no help. You are told that this may have multiple causes, go through a process with six stops, and then are told to re-install OS X. Stupid question: How do you do that without getting into the App Store (if you have no backup)? And, in any case, there are not multiple possible causes. There is just one, namely the recent security update.

Poking around, I noticed that in the System Preferences App Store Section, there is a checkbox labeled, “automatically download apps purchased on other macs”. It's greyed out (and there is a dash ("-") in the selection box. Underneath, you can read, "Checking if automatic app downloads are enabled" plus a spinning wheel. Whether you enable or disable "Automatically check for updates" makes no difference. The wheel keeps on spinning.

Another good example of Apple's present quality control, I suppose. I do not want to complain, but what can I do. The multiple error reports do not seem to faze Apple, and it is really difficult to get their attention by checking on the forum. What you get is: take these 6 steps; if this does not work, re-install. They should also say that you should not re-install the recent security update either!

As I said before ...

Later that day: 21:01 It's fixed now. I changed the network location from "Automatic" to a new value, called "Home" on the advice of an Apple Website. I wasted a whole day, however. Nor do I know why a security update would change or invalidate this setting.

Friday, July 24, 2015

LoneWiki: "a Lightweight Personal Wiki Program for Windows 7"

LoneWiki lives up to its promises. It "stores wiki content in raw text files and uses the Windows file system to organise categories. With stripped down wiki mark-up for formatting, the minimal amount of functionality required to help you take down and interlink all your thoughts, no prerequisites you don’t have already and no footprint beyond the content you make using it." It uses square brackets for links (but does not complain, if you use double square brackets. In addition it does headings, ordered and unordered lists, blockquotes, as well as bold, italics and underlining (even if the markup for underlining is a bit odd. Don't know of any other program that uses "=".).

"Simply run the executable, select a root folder for your wiki, and get started! New pages are created as you link to them and edit their contents." Files are saved with the "txt" extension. And they are directly accessible (not hidden like in Malkovich).

It's free. And it takes up only 20.0 KB (20,480 bytes) on disk. No install.

It does not do much, but what it does, it does well.

What I like best is a feature that allows you only to show the first line of a paragraph plus a markup command called "Expand." You invoke the feature by placing a "<" in front of the line. I also like the way it implements categories. A category is just a sub-folder on the disk. Recommended! There is no better lightweight wiki as far as I am concerned. (In other words, it beats Zim and Tomboy--at least as far as I am concerned.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Malkovich -- a Personal Wiki

I came across this program in the Outliner Forum. I downloaded and tried it. It lives up to its promises (which are minimal), using Markdown as wiki markup and storing its files as plain text files.

What I like about it most is that it uses free links, i.e. Double square brackets, like "[[this]]" for links. It's using "io.js and Electron", whatever that means. The one I downloaded is "version 0.9 Released July 7th 2015".

They say: "Malkovich is a desktop application built to run on your computer. It's self-contained and easy to install. You don't need to mess around with databases and run servers."

One problem, I have not been able to figure out where the data (or files) are actually stored (even though the Website says: "Notes are all stored as markdown formatted text files on your computer"). Accordingly, I have uninstalled it again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Back to Beach Balls

No, I don't mean the kind my grand children are using at the beach in South Carolina, but the ones you get to see when your Mac takes some time to load a program or complete a task. My Mavericks setup which worked like a charm until about three days ago is now broken. The computer kept crashing regularly since that time. It clearly has to do with Parallels. It corrupts the windows image file. I restored it twice, after which it worked for a while. But then Parallels corrupted the image again. I believe this problem has to do with a recent update, but I don't know. Information about what got updated when in Parallels is scarce on the Internet.[1] I have Version 10.2.1 (29006). One of the error reports mentioned Kekst signing, Apple's excuse for "security."

In any case, I have had to revert to Yosemite and can't use SSD.

Needless to say, I am not happy!

One day later: The problem does not seem to be caused by Parallels, after all. The crashes continued in Yosemite. The likely culprit is USB 3.0. Others are having those problems too. After disconnecting all USB drives, I have not had a crash (in a few hours).

1. But see here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Aby Warburg's Card Index

Aby Warburg (1866-1929) was a German art historian of some fame. He also kept his research in a kind of Zettelksten. Yet his method was rather different from that of other people discussed in this blog. For one thing, he decorated his boxes with different kind of materials. Secondly, they were not always kept at one place. Apparently, he took some of them on his extensive trips. Thirdly, contrary to Luhmann's method, his index cards had no firm place. He constantly re-arranged them in accordance with different criteria. Fourth, and this is related, he used a hierarchical system, even though his hierarchy would strike many as rather arbitrary and idiosyncratic.[1]

1. For the detailed discussion of one of his Boxes (in German), see here. It's concerned with Box, number 2 (which deals with conceptions of history).