Friday, February 27, 2015

Another Ingenious iPhone Stand

See here.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steinbeck's Obsession with Pencils

I just came across a rather odd book about odd habits of writers.[1] In it, we find about Steinbeck that he "preferred to compose his works in pencil, for the most part. He kept twelve pencils at his desk, and it was essential that each had a sharp point. An electric pencil sharpener was one of his most cherished tools. Steinbeck summed up his work regimen: ‘I sharpen all the pencils in the morning and it takes one more sharpening for a day’s work. That’s twenty-four sharp points. I can make a newly sharpened pencil last almost a page.”

Apparently, he liked the famous Blackwing pencils the best.[2] I would have suggested to him that he use mechanical pencils. Perhaps an "Eversharp"? But it would not have done, as he found the shape of the pencil irresistible: "My pencils are all short now and I think I will celebrate by getting out 12 new pencils. Sometimes just the pure luxury of long beautiful pencils charges me with energy and invention. We shall see. It means I will have to have more pencils before long though. Would you send me another box. They are Mongol 480 #2 3/8 round." Octogonal pencils gave him callouses.

He also needed yellow legal pads to write on. So the page that a sharpened pencil would last was probably a "yellow-pad page," but he also used ledgers.[3]

After he wrote his draft in longhand, he dictated it into his Dictaphone. For revisions, he played the recording back, claiming that he could hear “the most terrible things” he had done in writing when he heard it. Reading aloud did not give him sufficient distance, he claimed, because his eyes were involved.

1. Celia Blue Johnson, Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors. Penguin Books: 2013

2. See also Perfect pencil: John Steinbeck, Blackwing Pencils and the Mongol 480. See also Michael Leddy who provides another quotation.

3. See here.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Writing as a Method of Inquiry

Laurel Richardson claimed that writing was a “method of inquiry,” or a “way of finding out” things. "Writing is also a way of ‘knowing’–a method of discovery and analysis." Therefore, she points out: “I write because I want to find so mething out. I write in order to learn something I did not know before I wrote it. I was taught, however . . . not to write until I knew what I wanted to say, until my points were organized and outlined." (Richardson, Laurel. “Writing: A Method of Inquiry.” The Handbook of Qualitative Research 2nd edition. Eds. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonne S. Lincoln. Sage, 2000. Pp. 923-948.)

I like this idea, and I think it is essentially correct. Richardson was neither the first nor the last to assert it. In the spirit of open disclosure. That assertion is about the only thing I like in his essay. Nor do I think that this a in any way a "post-modern" idea.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Janus Notes

Janus Notes is a note-taking program for MAC OSX and iOS. They say: "To start simply add a note and begin writing. Janus supports only plain text and markdown (with preview). You can add attachments to the notes and they will live side by side with your notes. On Macintosh just press '+' (or drag and drop a file) to attach it. On iOS you can attach a picture (from the library or the camera), a link or take a voice note. Tap the attachment to see it on iOS. Double click or right click the icon on Mac to open or edit it."

Also: "Your notes will be automatically encrypted on iCloud to avoid eavesdroppers. The encryption password is available in clear in the software and can be freely changed. More: it should be changed as soon as possible. It is saved in the System Keychain and, therefore, it is sure when the device is locked (as it should always be when not in use). The cloud storage (the real target of encryption) is always encrypted without any copy of the password. We feel this is the right balance between usability and security. Please note that attachments are not encrypted in any case." Version 1 synced by way of Dropbox. It is available at the Apple app stores.

It looks promising, but I have not tried it myself.

An Honest Review of the Lamy 2000

You hear almost nothing but hyperbole about the Lamy 2000. I have one, and it is one of my least favorite pens. To be sure, I like the way it looks. But it appears to me that function has been sacrificed for form in this case. It's very uncomfortable to write with, and I am sure that this is not just due to my hands. Here is an excellent review of the 2000. By the way, the 2000 is not the only example of a non-functional product from Lamy. Just take a look at their Tipo mechanical pencil. I have no idea why the clip extends above the body of the pencil.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Indexing Paper Notebooks

I have been inddexing my paper notebooks for years. Here is a systematic description of how someone else does it.

I do like the idea to assign every notebook not just a year, but also a letter: "I letter the volumes in a year because it helps me locate a volume quickly on the shelf: N7 is volume N from 2007. Before indexing digitally a date span was all I put on a journal cover. There are many other approaches that would work."

I am not sure that you should not go back and index old journals. "What is past is past and whatever organizational system you used will have to suffice. If you try to go back and index past journals (even if you are new to journaling and have only a few volumes to index) you'll become bogged down in the cataloging of your past instead of being involved in the observation of your present. That is never a happy exchange." But it need not be an "exchange." The past may enlighten the present and vice versa.

By way of thecramped! Now, that wasn't hard.


This appeared a day after my post on Reagon's note cards. That could be just a coincidence. It's also rather unimportant. Still, a reference would have been nice!

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Zulupad is Now Free

Zulupad and Zulupad Pro "are now completely free." You can download Zulupad from the Website, but the link for Zulupad Pro does not work. It's also on Github. I was never very impressed with the application, as you can see here, but you can't beat "free."

The entries are kept in xml files that can be edited in an editor, if desired.

I do hope that the demise of this software does not indicate a decline of interest in personal wikis, but I am afraid it does.

Text Rules for Journals and Notes?

I have written about my admiration for Todo.txt before. Todo.txt format rules may, it appears to me, be extremely interesting as a model for other contexts as well. What are they? Let's summarize: (1) they are plain text files. (2) There are “a few simple but flexible format rules” to “take advantage of structured task metadata like priority, projects, context, creation and completion date.” Its two goals, namely that they (a) are human-readable without any other tools than an editor, and (b) can be manipulated in a text editor. This could be a model for other applications.

There will be differences: Todo items take up one line. Todo.txt uses the following conventions for these lines. An "(A)", "(B)", etc. indicates priority, "@phone", "@home", etc. context, and "+teaching", "+book", etc. projects. The unmarked text in the line actually is the description of the task. The rules are:
  • If priority exists, it ALWAYS appears first
  • The creation day may optionally appear immediately after priority and a space
  • Contexts and projects may appear anywhere after priority and prepended date

There are also rules for completed tasks (mainly that they start with an x) and for add-on rules (mainly that they should follow the format “key:value” without whitespace characters.

How might this be useful for journal or note entries, for instance? Wile they obviously do not consist of one line items, it would be possible to write similar rules that define a journal or note item.

Let’s look at what might be called Journal.txt: It consists of two or more paragraphs. The first paragraph is always a header or identifier consists of one line with a date, YYYY-MM-DD, followed by an optional title, like “observations” or whatever. The following paragraphs, containing the text, would have no identifying characters, while the final paragraph would again consist of just one line starting with :: (or something similar) to indicate key words and other meta-information. Every entry would need at least one expression starting with “::”. (Other optional file format definitions may be on this line as well.)

Note.txt would be structured similarly, but it would probably best not to start it with a date, but with some other character, like “#”, perhaps.

Why do I think this might be a good approach for journal entries and notes as well? Just take a look at this Todotxt page. There is a plethora of applications for different platforms that take advantage of the todotxt format and who can take advantage of the same file. I would welcome this for journal and not entries as well, but I am probably just dreaming.

There is another advantage (that does not matter to me). It could be used at the command line!