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.