Monday, February 29, 2016

Fountain Pen Mistakes

Some people seem to think that buying and using fountain pens already represents a mistake. I obviously don't think so. At Goulet pens, you can find a list of the seven most severe mistakes you can make with fountain pens. There are more in the comments.

Recommended reading, even if you don't (yet) own a fountain pen!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

What about Second Drafts?

Another strange result from a psychological study: Typing too fast can interfere with your thinking. Can it? Of course it can! It seems true that "People who type quickly may use the first word that comes to hand. Slowing down allows the mind more time to find the right word. This could be why forcing yourself to slow down a little improves the sophistication of vocabulary used." And this Website that comments on the study finds: "Slowing down your writing could help writing quality no matter what input method is used, the authors think."

Well, it could. But editing and producing a second, third, and fourth draft certainly will help "writing quality," or perhaps better the quality of what is written. The authors of the study (which I could not read, as it is behind a pay wall) might have more seriously considered the possibility of a preliminary draft, or the attempt to get down one's thoughts as quickly as possible with a view to later editing and re-editing. It seems from the summary that they were mainly interested in one-draft writing which is to be discouraged.[1]

1. I may be unfair to the authors of the study, as I don't know whether the PsyBlog entry ssummarizes the results correctly. For one idea about preliminary drafts (called "shitty first draft"), see here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Apple Notes, Again

MacSparky also likes the new Apple Notes application:
Then I stated using Apple Notes and the strangest thing happened. I liked it. Not only is Apple Notes a contender, Apple has continued to refine the product. Just last week we got a new beta of an upcoming Mac OS X release that includes additional Apple Notes features. One of those new features is the ability to import Evernote and plain text files. It seemed to me like a perfect excuse to slurp in the rest of my nvALT database so I could really push the application's limits. Now I've got 787 notes in my Apple Notes database. It's growing daily.
I am not using that many notes, as they always get incorporated into ConnectedText.

I recommend that you read the rest of the post!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Making the Garden?

In doing further research on pattern language, I came across this recent post by Christopher Alexander. Towards the end he claims
We cannot make an architecture of life if it is not made to reflect God—an objective condition. And, by a surprising twist, the search for a true architecture, that is to say, a real architecture that works, and in which this feeling of rightness is present in every bone, in an irreligious era has the unique power to bring back the reality of God to center stage in our concerns.
The capacity to make each brick, each path, each baluster, each windowsill a reflection of God lies in the heart of every man and every woman. It is stark in its simplicity. A world so shaped will lead us back to a sense of right and wrong and a feeling of well-being. This vision of the world—a real, solid physical world—will restore a vision of God. Future generations will be grateful to us if we do this work properly.
This worries me. I am not opposed to theology per se, but I have problems with this theology of architecture, as I would have problems with a theology of programming, or a theology note-taking. It's just too much.

I take it that Pattern Language and theology are connected in this way only in the mind of its creator, and there is no necessary connection here. Theologically speaking, the attempt to "make the garden" is suspect anyway, as we were (supposedly) expelled from it by God for a good reason. Some theologians would argued that Alexander's view is a manifestation of the very sin that led to the expulsion.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Wiki and Pattern Language

Pursuing the connection between wiki and pattern language, I came across Wiki as Pattern Language by Ward Cunningham and Michael W. Mehaffy. It's an interesting paper, but I have only skimmed it so far. More later, perhaps much later ...

On Blogs and Wikis

Mike Caulfield argues in an interesting post that Blogs and Wikis have not only a different history, bu also obey different laws. "Wiki and blogs have two different cultures, two different idioms," they embody "different sets of values." Thus "Blogs are, in many ways, the child of BBS culture and mailing lists. They are a unique innovation on that model, allowing each person to control their part of the conversation on their own machine and software while still being tied to a larger conversation through linking, backlinks, tags, and RSS feeds." Whereas "Wiki is perhaps the only web idiom that is not a child of BBS culture. It derives historically from pre-web models of hypertext, with an emphasis on the pre."

Therefore, Caulfield thinks, it is perhaps not surprising that "Wiki values are often polar opposites of blogging values. Personal voice is meant to be minimized. Voices are meant to be merged. Rather than serial presentation, wiki values treating pages as nodes that stand outside of any particular narrative, and attempt to be timeless rather than timebound reactions." Indeed, the believes "Wiki iterates not through the creation of new posts, but through the refactoring of old posts. It shows not a mind in motion, but the clearest and fairest description of what that mind has (or more usually, what those minds have) arrived at. It values reuse over reply, and links are not pointers to related conversations but to related ideas." I do find this point interesting. I think that Caulfield is on to something, even though I think that wiki does not always lead to the approximation of truth. "What the mind has arrived at" in many wikis may just be a consensus of many people with the same prejudices. Nor am I convinced that the wiki experience shows our angelic side. Just look at what is happening over at Wikipedia.

On the other hand, I have actually little interest in public wikis. I may not be able to count my contribution to wikis on one hand, but it certainly amounts to no more than four hands. Therefore, my interest in Caulfield's post about the historical origin and the values embodied in wikis concerns something that is only an aside in his post. He notes that "[t]he immediate ancestor of wiki was a Hypercard stack maintained by Ward Cunningham that attempted to capture community knowledge among programmers. Its philosophical godfather was the dead-tree hypertext A Pattern Language written by Christopher Alexander in the 1970s." I am stuck at the "pre-wiki' level, it seems. In any case, I am almost exclusively interested in what is nowadays called "personal wiki." While I hope this is not a moral shortcoming, I am fairly sure that my personal wiki grows not just through the creation of new entries, but also "through the refactoring of old" entries. Furthermore, it does show a mind in motion to the clearest and fairest description of what this mind can arrive at. It's only my mind interacting with the ideas by others and by myself. I like it that way!

I am thankful for Mike Caulfeld for giving me the occasion to reflect on this fact. I am also thankful for reminding me of A Pattern language. I had never thought of it in connection with wiki, and I will now pursue this idea further.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Gödel's Notebooks

Kurt Gödel compiled a list of unpublished manuscripts that he considered important. His philosophical notebooks seem to figure largely in it. He called them "Max" (probably for "Maxims" or "Maximen").[1] Fifteen of them (plus two on theology) can be found in Princeton's Archive. One seems to have been lost in 1946. There were once sixteen notebooks. They are written in a kind of shorthand (called Gabelsberger shorthand or Deutsche Einheitskurzschrift) and seem to have been started in 1934 and ended in 1955. They are characterized as a "philosophical diary" of sorts. The first three notebooks were bought in Vienna, the others in the United States.

The first notebooks contain plans for his studies and lists of books he intends to read as well as notes of lectures he attended. "Besides that there are philosophical
questions and problems he is dealing with and especially maxims for his conduct of private and academic life. And he is also reflecting on strategies to build up an academic career." More precisely,
Gödel started the philosophical notebooks as a realization of an ethical approach. Self-perfection and self-admonition are part of this approach. They seem very much to be in the tradition of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or Goethe’s Maxims and Reflections. At the same time Gödel discusses philosophical problems from the viewpoint of different academic disciplines and has a kind of 17th century metaphysics as an outline in mind. The scientific disciplines contribute to answering the question of why the world is as it is insofar as they identify and construct objects, isolate phenomena and find laws that are generalizations from observations and constructions. Gödel tries to show the contribution of each academic and scientific discipline and puts them in relation to each other and the classical problems of traditional philosophy concerning freedom, good and evil, death and the significance of our lives. Generalization, idealization and analogy are essential philosophical methods linking up science and philosophy which cannot be set apart.[2]
Apparently, their style style, and, in particular, "the way in which one remark on a certain question follows another and is then taken up again later on to think it through from a different perspective reminds one very much of the form Ludwig Wittgenstein chose for his notebooks and his Philosophical Investigations." But "Gödel is much more engaged in dialogues with thinkers of the past. Among them are classical authors like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas of Aquinas, René Descartes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Hegel, as well as contemporaries like Gottlob Frege, Giuseppe Peano, Bertrand Russell, Luitzen Brouwer, and Rudolf Carnap. But there are also nearly forgotten ones that he mentions like his teacher Heinrich Gomperz", who was also very important to Karl Popper.

It would be good, if these notebooks were published soon. While some people tend to disparage Gödel, the philosopher, at the expense of Gödel, the mathematician, and therefore might argue that nothing of philosophical importance will be found in them, I would find them interesting simply from the point of view intellectual methodology. It should be interesting to find out how someone of Gödel's stature used the notebook method

1. These are not the only notebooks. There are also sixteen notebooks he called "Arbeitshefte" (or mathematical workbooks) and six on "logic and foundation," as well as four on "results on foundation." See here.
2. For more see here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Layout of the Blog

I have no idea how to fix the sudden (and unwanted) change of the layout of this blog. I have contacted Blogger, but have not yet received an answer.

It turns out, I had to update the template. Don't ask me why.

Nor do I know why I can't get back to the original look.

History of the Index Card?

See here. I am rather doubtful about this history. Thus, it is not really true that Linné (Linnaeus) "invented" the index card. For one thing, he used paper slips, and for another, playing cards and paper slips were used already for the purpose of cataloging and taking notes long before him. What about Aldrovandi or Gessner as the "inventors" of the index card in the sixteenth century, or about 100 years earlier?[1]

This criticism of the "history of the index card" does, of course, not diminish Linnaeus's other achievements in any way. The article has other problems as well.

A propos Linnaeus, Weinberger (2007) claims that "Linnaeus's organization took the shape it did in part because he constructed it out of paper." "he used paper - atoms - to think through the order of the natural world." Whether this kind of reductionism can be maintained is also highly questionable - or so I would claim. This seems to be at best an over-simplifiction. It may well be that paper cards were a necessary condition in the eighteenth century, but that does not mean that they were also sufficient conditions. To his credit, Weinberger says "in part." Others have made such reductionist claims without any qualification.

1. Let me be clear: I don't claim that they invented the index card either. I am just claiming that they have just as much right as Linnaeus. Index cards were invented much later.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Peirce's Note Cards

Charles Sanders Peirce was an early adopter of the index card system. He used 3 x 5 and 2 X 5 cards between 1886 and 1891 for his drafts of definitions for the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Many have been lost, but there are four large boxes extant with several thousands of cards.

Peirce on Knowledge

It is perhaps well known to Peirce aficionados, but it is still interesting to note that Peirce thought knowledge does not so much reside in our heads as it does in artifacts, linguistic or otherwise. Thus he claimed in the Collected Papers:
A psychologist cuts out a lobe of my brain (nihil animale a me alienum puto) and then, when I find I cannot express myself, he says, "You see, your faculty of language was localized in that lobe." No doubt it was; and so, if he had filched my inkstand, I should not have been able to continue my discussion until I had got another. Yea, the very thoughts would not come to me. So my faculty of discussion is equally localized in my inkstand. It is localization in a sense in which an object may be in two places at once." CP 7.366, 1907
And in 1902, he maintained that it is "more accurate to say that there are stores of knowledge in a library than to say that there are books there which, if I was reading, having become acquainted with the languages they are printed in, would be conveying knowledge to my mind" (Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers,, Volume II, Elements of Logic, p. 2.55f).

I don't know whether that means he believed in a kind of active externalism a la Chalmer and Clark or whether he simply thought that it is a mistake to "localize" knowledge at all.[1] If he claimed the latter, he must have conceived of it as virtual, and as being neither neither in the mind nor in space. I suspect, however, he did not mean externalism. In any case, in November 30, 1868, he wrote to W. T. Harris that the mind as a whole is "virtual" and cannot really exist at any particular moment in time. Perhaps he is making a similar point about knowledge. It does not simply consist of "states of mind," but it is not truly external either. "inner" and "outer" make little sense when applied to parts of a network.

And what does all this have to do with note-taking? Well it seems to mean to me that your note-taking system also constitutes such a virtual system that consists of interactions between you (or your mind) and your notes. This virtual system is not subject to the same limitations as the "unaided mind" mind would be. Comparing the mind to a machine, he argues in 1887 (Logical Machines), "the mind working with pencil and plenty of paper has no such limitation. It presses on and on, and whatever limits can be assigned to its capacity today, may be overstepped tomorrow" (Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, Volume 6, p. 71). He thinks that algebra is a prime example of this. I would argue that, insofar as Peirce is correct, it would apply to other pursuits as well.

1. For active externalism or the extended mind thesis, see here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Benjamin’s Note-taking

I have written before on Benjamin’s view of card indexes. He himself preferred the “notebook method.” Even though he characterized his writing as "verzettelte Schreiberei,” that is, disjointed scribbling or scrappy paperwork, he preferred not to use scraps. He owned many small notebooks, and he developed a certain mythology around them. Thus he wrote about one notebook:
"I carry the blue book with me everywhere and speak of nothing else. And I am not the only one—other people too beam with pleasure when they see it. I have discovered that it has the same colours as a certain pretty Chinese porcelain: its blue glaze is in the leather, its white in the paper and its green in the stitching. Others compare it to shoes from Turkistan. I am sure there is nothing else of this kind as pretty in the whole of Paris, it is also quite modern and Parisian." (GB III, 273)
He also spoke of “homeless thoughts,” by which he seemed to mean thoughts that were not recorded in a notebook.

Benjamin always seems to have kept several notebooks at the same time. In them, he recorded diary entries, travel description, wrote down ideas, epigraphs, drafts, letters, a catalogue of interesting books, and literary compositions. He also kept a catalogue of all the books he ever read (in their entirety).

Susan Sontag comments in On Photography (75:) on Hannah Arendt’s "magisterial essay on Benjamin,” and reports that for Benjamin ’nothing was more characteristic … in the thirties than the little notebooks with black covers which he always carried with him and in which he tirelessly entered in the form of quotations what daily living and reading netted him in the way of 'pearls' and 'coral'. On occasion he read from them aloud, showed them around like items from a choice and precious collection."

Sontag also claims that Benjamin’s taste for quotation (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous passages is characteristic of his surrealism or his surrealist taste. Whether or not that is true, he certainly took note-taking seriously. Thesis 5 in “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses” reads “Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.”[1] The entries were indispensable to his method of literary assemblage (literarische Montage). They constitute collections, and “‘what is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind. This relation is the diametric opposite of any utility…”[2]

Thesis 4 is also interesting in this contest, for it claims that we should “avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.”[3] This extended to the notebooks and their paper. Thus we find in his correspondence that he really liked a "sizeable notebook with flexible parchment binding,” and that using it “has produced in [him] a shameful weakness for this extremely thin, transparent, yet excellent stationary, which I am unfortunately unable to find here" (Correspondence, p. 345).

1. Seven of his notebooks still seem to be extant.
2. It might be interesting to compare Benjamin’s use of notebooks to that of Adorno.
3. If this reminds of Roland Barthes' almost obsessive relation to his writing instruments, this is probably no accident.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Kindle

I bought a Kindle 3 in 2010. It did provide good service to me until January of this year when it died. The screen partially froze. The upper half of the screen had a fractured picture of the last active screen saver, while the lower half still worked. Needless to say, it is unusable. It was to expensive to fix, so I broke down and bought the cheapest version of the present Kindle (with advertisements). It's a refurbished unit and cost less than $60.00.

It does what it is supposed to do, but I still miss the keyboard. Nor can I help thinking that the touchscreen will break more easily than the older screen, but we will see.

I was tempted by the Kindle Fire which is actually cheaper than the classic Kindle, but I was worried that the bright screen might interfere with reading. Does anyone have any experiences she/he might want to share?[1]

1. See here for all my posts related to the Kindle.

Day One 2

I bought Day One at the beginning of 2012, and I wrote about it in August 2012. As I said then, I find it useful mainly as a backup in my note-taking process. I have never used it for pictures (as far as I remember). It seemed just to cumbersome for that, but it has been reliable and it did what I want it to do.

I hope it will continue to be reliable in its present version, as I am not going to update. First, I really have no use for its new capabilities, mainly multiple pictures per entry, multiple journals, and new capabilities of syncing, etc. And the "all-new user interface" leaves me rather cold. Second, the price has increased dramatically. Even at 50% off, it costs $19.99, or twice as much as I would be willing to pay.

I am not saying that it is a bad or useless upgrade per se but only that I personally have no use for it. If the old version stops being reliable, there is always the free Notes app included with OS X, whose latest update makes it a very capable replacement for Day One. In fact, come to think of it, I should perhaps delete Day One now and exclusively use Notes from now on. It would do nicely, and you could say that One Note was attractive to me in 2012 because Notes was underdeveloped.[1]

1. On going through the notes in Day One now (11:06), I notice that I was wrong about pictures. I did include the occasional one in my notes--especially earlier on.