Thursday, March 31, 2016

R.R. Martin on Readers

I am an avid reader. And I believe that reading is very important for anyone who wants to live a life worth living. Yet, I have to take issue with a quote that is supposedly from R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragon that is making the rounds on the Internet:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
At best, a reader leads a thousand vicarious lives; and she or he may not live any life at all, if reading becomes an escape from living. Reading does not substitute for living. It may enhance life, but, it may also damage it, especially if you only read certain kinds of fantasy.

I would be very careful from whom I take advice!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Cleartext is a text editor that will only allow you to use "he 1,000 most common words in English." I hope it is meant to be just a joke--especially because it comes with a "Trump mode." (By way of One Thing Well.)

I cannot believe that your thoughts or your writing becomes clearer by simply restricting you vocabulary.

No further comment!

Monday, March 21, 2016

One Way I Organize My Notes

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I use ConnectedText to organize my notes. ConnectedText is a "personal hypertext." Accordingly, links between notes play a large role. They are very important to me. However, they are not sufficient. I also use categories or tags to classify them. In my main project that has more than 10,000 topics, I have 223 categories or tags (ConnectedText does not sharply differentiate between the two). There are also properties and attributes which I use very sparingly.

One fundamental organizational device I use is what is called a "smart topic" in ConnectedText. It may be thought of as the "reverse" of a wiki category, and it is just a topic with an embedded search. So, if I would like to have an easy way of knowing how many topics I have on the medieval university and its institutions, I could create a topic called "medieval university" and put the following inline query into it: "[[$ASK:medieval and university|Index|]]" and it will list every topic on the subject. (If you are curious, there are 24).

Over the years, I have found three types of smart topics particularly useful, one belongs to the category "Person," another to the category "Concept," and the final one to the category "Theory." So, if I want to know how many and what topics I have, say on A. J. Ayer, I just put "[[$ASK:Ayer|Index|]]" into my Ayer page. If I want to know how many and what topics I have on the concept of "order," I do the equivalent for it, and if I want to know about "string theory" the same. (I assure you that there are not many notes on the last topic [I checked and found exactly 2]).

Some people, including Luhmann, think that classifying one's notes by persons is a deficient way of achieving order. As a Systems theorist, he is somewhat disdainful of this approach:
One possibility is to remember names: Marx, Freud, Giddens, Bourdieu, etc. Obviously most knowledge can also be ordered by names, eventually also by names of theories such as social phenomenology, theory of reception in the literary disciplines, etc. Even introductions to sociology and basic texts are conceived in this way. What one cannot learn from such works, however, are conceptual connections and especially the nature of the problems that these texts try to solve. Still, even candidates in exams at the end of their studies want to be examined on Max Weber or, if that is too much, on Humberto Maturana, and they are prepared to report on what they know about these authors.
Luhmann clearly thinks this is sub-par for the course. I don't disagree. That is why I also sort things according to concepts.

One might argue that this is still deficient. As Karl Popper claimed, "Theories may be true or false. Concepts can at best be adequate and at worst be misleading. Concepts are unimportant, in comparison with theories." And this is why I also have a category named "theory" under which I can find smart topics with searches for particular theories.

This is one way I organize my note-taking. It is by no means the only one, as I suggested at the very beginning.

Standing Up, Again

Not so long ago standing up was praised as being superior and having many health-benefits as compared with sitting down. Perhaps it was inevitable, but now there are many studies (and thus Websites) that express skepticism about such claims.

Here a few:
I'll just wait for the studies of the studies and withhold judgment!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Quiver, a "Programmer's Notebook"

I recently came across Quiver which is described as a "notebook built for programmers. It lets you easily mix text, code, Markdown and LaTeX within one note, edit code with an awesome code editor, live preview Markdown and LaTeX, and find any note instantly via the full-text search."

I downloaded the trial and played with it. There is much to like in this application. I am not a programmer, but I do like the way Quiver handles text, markdown, and pictures. I also like its search capabilities: "Quiver's full-text search is based on Search Kit, the same technology used to power Spotlight on your mac. That's how Quiver can search through thousands of notes in a blink of an eye." I also like that it "stores data in a well-documented plain JSON format. So it’s easy to write scripts to integrate Quiver notes with other tools you use. Common scripts are provided on the Quiver documentation site." Furthermore, "Quiver lets you sync all your notes across multiple computers via Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, or any other file-based cloud services."

Most of all, I like that it is an OS X application. If I were to adopt it, I would no longer have to run Windows.

There is, however, one thing that keeps me from adopting it, and that is the somewhat cumbersome implementation of linking. You have to first copy the target note, move back into the note, into which you wish to insert the link to the target and the paste it into the note. It would be so much better, if you could just enclose the name of the target in double brackets, the way nValt, or OneNote, or ConnectedText allow you to do it.

The author seems to be aware of this, and implicitly promises to improve the linking behavior.

I will wait, but I am sure that the present version of Quiver (it's 3) will be good enough for many people, and not just for coders!

Atoma and Arc, Again

I have written about Arc and Atoma several times before. I don't really use it, as I prefer real notebooks for my paper notes. But I am fascinated by the system. Here is an interesting post on how someone has just adopted the system and finds: "What I have now is an infinite, and almost perfect, notebook, in a beautiful and very functional cover. What’s even better is I still get to tinker. There’s nothing worse than finding something that’s so close to what you want, you can’t think of ways to improve it."

This sentiment expresses almost exactly how I think of my personal hypertext system! One of the good things about "personal hypertext" as compared with loose leafs is that it is much more difficult to lose any of the pages in personal hypertext. It is also infinitely better at cross referencing my information.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pomera DM100

There is another alternative to the Alphasmart Neo, namely the Japanese Pomera DM100. I obviously have not used it and cannot say anything about its virtues and vices, but there is a very thorough review of the device I have read. I am tempted, but I will not buy it, as the Neo does everything I need at this time.[1]

1. Here is a reference to an earlier version of a Pomera.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Freewrite

The Hemingwrite has morphed into The Freewrite. It is touted as "a single purpose, distraction-free writing composition device. It combines the simplicity of a 90s-era word processor with modern technology like an e-paper display, mechanical keyboard, and cloud backups." Its price at the moment is $499.00.

It looks interesting, if a bit clumsy. It should be thinner--or so it seems to me. It's probably the mechanical keyboard that is to blame. I am not sure why I would need a "mechanical" keyboard.

Functionally, it seems very similar to the Alphasmart Neo which is now defunct. It can be had for less than $100.00 on Amazon and eBay. There may be some affluent people who are willing to pay five time that much for integration with Dropbox and Evernote, I am not among them. "'We are quickly seeing people becoming more disenchanted than ever with the nag of constant consumption,' explains Adam Leeb, cofounder of Freewrite manufacturer Astrohaus." Indeed!

The Freewrite weighs four pounds. The Neo2 weighs half that much. To repeat: "It's probably the mechanical keyboard that is to blame. I am not sure why I would need a 'mechanical' keyboard."

I am not sure why it is referred to as a "typewriter," as it does not seem to type or print on paper.

That being said, it is an interesting phenomenon.[1] I am sure some people will take to it. I am probably just too old (and would find it difficult to lug around four pounds on a fairly regular basis). And looking "cool" using it is no longer a real option either. So, please discount my negativity!

1. I became aware of The Freewrite through David Bosman
2. Tuesday, March 8, 2016 I have now done a search about "The Freewrite" and discovered that I am not the only one who felt moved to compare it to the Neo. It's not important, but I did not know of those previous posts when I wrote this. It's clearly an obvious association for anyone interested in a minimal word processor. I'd wish that someone developed a decent successor to the Neo.

Using Business Cards for Notes

Here is an interesting post on how to use business cards for notes on the road. It inspired me to order this from Amazon:

It's a "Blank Flash Card Dispenser Box Card Size 2'' x 3''" 1000 cards, and it will probably last me a life time. I like the small size, as two, three or five cards will easily fit in my wallet. (They are a bit smaller than credit cards.

You can never have too many ways of capturing notes.[1]

1. The blog has other interesting ideas for "analog note-taking." I use both analog and electronic means, however.