Author Archives: Steve Zeoli

Further ruminations on the spark file

Editing a spark note in Daedalus Touch for the iPad.

Editing a spark note in Daedalus Touch for the iPad.

I wrote about creating a spark file system the other day. As is usually the case with new information management processes that interest me, I put the cart before the horse, working on a software solution before actually thinking through what the results should be. I took a breath after composing that article to consider what I want to actually DO with a spark file. How do the contents of such a file differ from what I would keep in other note-taking systems I use?

I came up with the following concepts for my spark file, some of which were already percolating while writing the previous article:

  • I do not need or want any categorization beyond keeping the notes in chronological order. Any other categorization might influence how I express the idea. For example, if I start out a note regarding the early days of Yellowstone National Park and classify it non-fiction, it may be less likely that I would consider a novel on the same topic. This would be true as I was writing the note, and months later as I review the note.
  • This is a file just for ideas and guesses (what Steven Johnson calls hunches). I’m not putting any data in this file, no addresses or passwords or order confirmation numbers. What goes in the file comes from my brain only, with the exception of quotations, which might help illuminate an idea.
  • I can refer to other sources. For example, if an article about how we all have Neanderthal DNA in our genes gives me the idea of a new dating service called PrimeMates.Com, which matches people with ideal dates based on their inner cavemen (kind of like Meyers-Briggs but with clubs and hairy chests), then it is okay to put a link to that article in the note.
  • I must not be critical of the ideas I put into this file at the time I create them. Critical notes upon future review will be good practice, I think.

Having crystallized the concept of the spark file a little more solidly, I was then able to return to finding a solution for managing this file with the confidence that I have a better notion of what I’m doing. If you recall from the previous article, the software system had four requirements:

  1. Universal access for editing, reviewing and creating.
  2. Capturing ideas must be quick and easy.
  3. Ability to read the entire set of ideas from start to finish in one scrolling document.
  4. Writing in the editor must be as close to a full word-processor experience as possible.

With those requirements in mind, I have decided to use the Ulysses III-Daedalus combination from The Soulmen. Ulysses is a terrific plain text editor for the Mac that uses Markdown language for formatting text. With Ulysses, you create groups of sheets, which correlates to folders and documents in an app like Scrivener. You can save these groups of sheets in one of three places: locally on your Mac, on iCloud (Apple’s version of Dropbox), or on your iPad in the companion app Daedalus (which is also synch’d via iCloud). In the navigator pane to the left, which Ulysses calls the Library, your groups are sorted by where they are located, so you have a section for your Daedalus materials. (In Daedalus, a group is called a stack, so I’m switching nomenclature — yes, yes, I know it is confusing.) So you have a local copy of your Daedalus stacks in Ulysses on your Mac, which synchronizes beautifully between the two apps.

Ulysses III with my Spark Notes stack selected.

Ulysses III with my Spark Notes stack selected.

I’ve created a stack called Spark Notes, which I can access equally well on either of my two MacBooks and my iPad. I create a new sheet for each idea I want to record. This atomization of my spark file may seem to go against my requirements, but it works fine with Ulysses, because I can see all the sheets concatenated into one view just by selecting all of them (see the screenshot below).

Four spark notes selected and view-able as "one" document in Ulysses.

Four spark notes selected and view-able as “one” document in Ulysses.

You can also easily export all the sheets in one stack to a single document in many formats, so there is no lock-in to this system. Daedalus on the iPad provides a little different user experience than this, but one that works well for a tablet. When you select a stack, you drill down to the sheet level, and you can leaf through your sheets like flipping through pages of a book.

An open sheet, part of a stack in Daedalus for iPad.

An open sheet, part of a stack in Daedalus for iPad.

There is one hole in this system, which is how to incorporate my Windows PC at work? I can’t access my spark file from the PC, but I can easily write any brainstorms I may have in my favorite text editor for PC, Notetab. I save the .txt file to Dropbox, and when I get the chance I can just drag it into the Spark Notes stack in Ulysses where it seamlessly becomes just another sheet.

A few comments: There are limitations on the sheets you create in Ulysses for use on Daedalus. These mostly relate to the markup you can use with your text, as the iPad app doesn’t have the powerful features of the Mac app. But I don’t need those features for my Spark Notes stack, so it isn’t a big deal. And The Soulmen are working on a Ulysses app for the iPad, which should make this system even more graceful and efficient.

 

Categories: Productivity, Software | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Ruminations on the idea of a spark file

Thanks to a post over on David Pottinger’s blog, Steps & Leaps,* I was reminded of the concept of the spark file, the invention of writer Steven Johnson. As Johnson describes it, the spark file is “a single document where I keep all my hunches: ideas for articles, speeches, software features, startups, ways of framing a chapter I know I’m going to write, even whole books…. There’s no organizing principle to it, no taxonomy–just a chronological list of semi-random ideas that I’ve managed to capture before I forgot them.”

The key to the effectiveness of this exercise, according to Johnson, is periodically reading the spark file from start to finish.

“I end up seeing new connections that hadn’t occurred to me the first (or fifth) time around,” he writes. “Sure, I end up reading over many hunches that never went anywhere, but there are almost always little sparks that I’d forgotten that suddenly seem more promising. And it’s always encouraging to see the hunches that turned into fully-realized projects or even entire books.”

This is a tantalizing idea, not unlike the bullet journal in some ways. It’s a single place to record data. In the bullet journal you rapid log events, tasks and random information. In the spark file you keep ideas that you don’t want to forget, at least not now. To get the most out of either system, you need to review the contents on a regular basis, the bullet journal probably more frequently than the spark file.

But there are also crucial differences in the two systems. In a bullet journal it isn’t so much the expression of the information, but the information itself. You bought book Z at your local bookstore on February 3. You completed Y project on March 12. That kind of thing. With a spark file, it seems to me, the expression of the idea is almost as important as the idea itself. Or, to put this another way, recording the idea will instant start to change the idea, and you will want room to be able to explore those changes. It might take two sentences, it might take a whole page. And when you review your ideas months later you will want to be able to append thoughts about that idea.

While a bullet journal could serve as the staging point for a spark file, where you make a quick note of something you want to write down in more detail later, you likely would never move information from the spark file to your bullet journal, unless it was a note to follow-up on an idea.

Johnson says his current spark file is over 50 pages (as of two years ago). So the spark file needs to be able to grow organically. I don’t flatter myself that I have that many ideas floating around in my head or ever will, but do wonder if I would have more if I had a more systematic way of non-critically capturing my “hunches.” Is a spark file something that would work for me? The only way to find out, I think, is give it a go.

And that leads to the next question: What’s the best way for ME to implement this concept?

From Johnson’s description, I can see three essential attributes of an effective spark file:

  • I must be able to access it for both reading and writing from anywhere, at any time.
  • Capturing my thoughts and ideas must be quick and easy, because any road bumps might make me decide to check my e-mail instead of writing down that “hunch.”
  • I must be able to read the entire set of hunches from start to finish in one window. But does this mean it needs to be a single document like Johnson uses? Or can it be composed in an application that provides concatenation of smaller documents into a longer one for reading?

One more essential attribute can be inferred from Johnson’s description, though he does not make it explicit. Regardless, it certainly is important to me. And that is, writing and editing needs to be easy, because I find that once I start to write down an idea from my head, that idea instantly begins to morph into something different. To allow myself the ability to explore this evolution, I have to be able to write in a nimble editor, one that makes it easy for me to re-write as I go. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is nevertheless important for me to make this a requirement, as it will impact the tools I choose to use to keep my spark file. For example, it is one reason why a paper notebook would not work for me, as I am a terrible writer and editor with pen and paper.

As I first started thinking about creating my own spark file, I also began considering options for how to manage it. I rejected hierarchical free-form databases like DevonThink or UltraRecall because the information stored in those applications is too atomized. While those apps may work for others who want a place to store their ideas, they are not in keeping with the major principle as suggested by Steven Johnson of providing a single, readable view of all your hunches.

But does that mean only a single document will work? Not necessarily. It occurred to me that the remarkable writing application Scrivener, could be an ideal environment for keeping a record of hunches. As I envision it, I would create a spark file project and then add individual documents for each “hunch.” There are a lot of reasons Scrivener would be an excellent application to use for this purpose:

  • It’s a great writing environment, in which it is easy to compose and edit text.
  • There are many ways to add meta data to your hunches, if you want to do so. The date you create an entry is automatically recorded for instance. You can also add a synopsis, or annotations, and lots more. That seems useful.
  • You can easily export your entire spark file as a single document in many standard formats, so you are not locked in to Scrivener, and you can make your spark file portable.
  • You can use the scrivenings view, which concatenates your entries into a single window that is virtually indistinguishable from a single document.
  • You can save your spark file project in Dropbox so it is accessible on all your computers. Scrivener is available for both the Mac and Windows platforms.
  • If you want to add information to any of the hunches in your spark file, you can either append them to the original document or add supporting documents, which can appear as sub-documents to the original.
  • If an idea looks like it will blossom, you can easily move it to its own Scrivener file, where you can focus on nurturing it.

There are, of course, a few reasons why Scrivener might not be a good choice for maintaining a spark file. First, there is no current version for mobile apps. While this may be easily overcome using a quick note capture app with easy import into a Scrivener file, it does add a layer of complexity that works against the whole concept of ease and speed. The good news is that an iPad version of Scrivener is in the works and should be available soon.

A bigger issue for me is that in order to share a file among computers via Dropbox, you need to get into the habit of closing the file once you are done with it, as having the same file open on more than one computer currently can create problems. This, in fact, is the issue that has made me decide that Scrivener won’t work for me at this time. I know myself, and if I have to re-open a file in order to record a half-baked idea, I’m probably going to check my Twitter feed first and then… what was that idea again?

So I’m back to square one, which is doing just what Johnson does and having a single document. I can keep it in Dropbox for access from any of my devices. It should be in a standard format. Plain text or a Word document. I’m inclined to choose plain text, as there are more good options on the iPad for opening and editing that format. Okay. Now that I have limited my options to this, it is time to start my spark file and let the genius begin. Or something like that.

And maybe one day Scrivener will solve the problem of synchronizing among various computers using Dropbox.

*Please forgive the incestuousness of my referring to a blog post that refers to one of my blog posts; that’s how I was made aware of it in the first place.

Categories: Productivity, Software | Tags: , | 16 Comments

Refreshed review of Outlinely — a new outliner for Mac

[Due to the major hash I made of my previous review of Outlinely, I have decided to start over with a (mostly) new review.]

Thanks to the eagle-eye of one of the folks over at outlinersoftware.com, I was recently made aware of a new outlining application for Mac known as Outlinely (requires OS 10.8 or higher). Aside from the name, there is a lot to like about this nifty little app. The introductory price of $5 makes it a real bargain. If this application were for Windows, it would instantly be one of the top outliners on that platform — which, admittedly, is more of a commentary of outliners for Windows than accolades for Outlinely. Nevertheless, Outlinely is equal parts slick and simple, and looks like a nice option for cranking out notes and gathering thoughts.

Outlinely is a new option for people (like me) who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more.

Outlinely is a new option for people who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more. (The note-style text is easier to read than it appears in this screenshot.)

The application has a clean interface that does feel a lot like a word processor, which is one of the goals stated by the developer. Like most outliners, it allows you to show and conceal sub topics. Focus mode is a hoist function for zooming in on one topic and its sub-topics. Add notes to a topic, which serve more as annotations, as you can’t export those with your outline at present. And, speaking of export, after cranking out your outline, you can output your work to a number of file formats, which include:

  • OPML
  • PDF
  • HTML
  • RTF
  • DOC
  • Markdown (it adds the markdown code for you — see the screenshot at the end of this article for an example)
  • Plain text
With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

You can toggle topics between “done” and not done using the keystrokes command-D. Topics marked done are grayed out and have a hashline through them. You can also alter the font, text size and color theme to your liking. You can’t change the font or size selectively, just universally for the current outline, but you can selectively apply bold, italics, and underlining.

Currently you need to use keystroke commands to reogranize your outline — there is no drag and drop. You can demote or promote a topic with the TAB and SHIFT-TAB keys, or COMMAND-[ (for indent) COMMAND-] (for outdent). Add the OPTION key to those combinations to move topics up and down in the outline. (Update: As of April 9, 2014 Outinely does have drag and drop functions for reorganizing the outline.)

You can’t select or change the bullet/labels for the outline. In fact, bullets only appear for topics with sub-topics. Otherwise the indication that the text is part of a separate topic needs to be inferred from the slightly larger space above it. I’ve found that when topics run on for several lines, and you have a few of these together, it isn’t instantly clear where one topic ends and the other begins. This is a small price to pay for the editor which is refreshingly clear of bullets and symbols. If you’re creating a formal outline, however, you may have to export to another app to provide the numbering/labeling style you prefer. (If labeling of an outline is important to you, you might want to try Scribe.)

If you read my previous snake-bitten review of Outlinely, you will know that I had a major problem running the application. I sent the developer an e-mail and received a response with a fix (the problem was a corrupt extension database or some such thing), that solved the problem. It also allowed me to open the help file (which is simply an Outlinely outline), and that allowed me to answer a couple of other riddles that I had (like how to create a new topic under another topic with a note attached). Needless to say, I was impressed by the responsiveness of the developer.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

Some people never need the bells and whistles of a full-featured application like OmniOutliner, and others, like me, often want a quick, hassle-free app for creating outlines for project planning, brain storming, and outlining an article or process. Already Outlinely has stepped up as the best option for that role. I wish there were a version for Windows and the iPad.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 3 Comments

New outliner for the Mac is slick but needs work

[Important note: Because this initial "review" of Outlinely was so riddled with errors, I decided to write a whole new review, which you can find here. I've decided, at least for now, to leave this review here, since some other websites point to it.]

Warning: Do not buy this app! See the update at the bottom of the review!

(See new update at the end.)

(I’ve also updated a few inaccuracies I had with my original post. Thanks to the Taking Note blog for pointing out my errors.)

Thanks to the eagle-eye of one of the folks over at outlinersoftware.com, I was made aware today of a new outlining application for Mac known as Outlinely (requires OS 10.8 or higher). I’m not so crazy about the name, but for the most part, I like this app a lot. The introductory price of $5 makes it a real bargain. If this application were for Windows, it would instantly be one of the top outliners on that platform — which, admittedly, is more of a commentary of outliners for Windows than accolades for Outlinely. Nevertheless, Outlinely is equal parts slick and simple, and looks like a nice option for cranking out notes and gathering thoughts.

Outlinely is a new option for people (like me) who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more.

Outlinely is a new option for people who use outlines for writing, planning, thinking, tracking, note-taking and more. (The note-style text is easier to read than it appears in this screenshot.)

Here are some of the features I like:

  • Clean interface that does feel a lot like a word processing editor, which is one of the goals stated by the developer.
  • Versatile export file formats. I haven’t tried them all, but the ones I did worked well. See below for a screenshot of the markdown export I opened in Ulysses III. Here are the options:
    • OPML
    • PDF
    • HTML
    • RTF
    • DOC
    • Markdown (it adds the markdown code for you)
    • Plain text
  • Can focus in on one topic at a time (see screenshot below).
    • You can focus on a topic by pressing command-return.
    • Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a keyboard command to unfocus. You’ve got to mouse over to the little magnifying glass in the bottom left corner and click.
    • It is a little strange that the developer suddenly relies on mousing, when other common mouse-type actions (like drag and drop) are absent. (Note, there is a command to unfocus while in focus mode, but it appears under the EDIT menu, which is a strange place for it. Or you can tap the ESC key.)
  • Toggle a topic as “done” or “undone” using command-D keystrokes. Done topics are grayed-out and crossed out.
  • Topics can have notes.
    • Notes are not included with the export.
    • There is one major issue with notes… see below.
With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

With Outlinely you can focus in on one topic. You can also change the font, the font size, and the color theme.

LIMITATIONS AND AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Outlinely has a number of quirks and omissions. Some of these may be intentional to keep the app simple. Some may be errors. And some may be simply that the developers haven’t gotten around to them yet. Here are the ones I’ve uncovered, in no particular order:

  • No drag and drop for re-organizing topics.
    • This isn’t so bad, but some people might miss it.
  • Supposedly you can add hot links, but I can not figure out how to do so, and since the help file is not up and running yet, I can’t learn the answer without turning to the developers. (Note, there is a help file in the form of a native Outlinely file. It didn’t originally open for me due to the same problem I was having regarding the corrupt extension database.)
  • Can’t select or change the bullet/labels for the outline. In fact, bullets only appear for topics with sub-topics. Otherwise the indication that the text is part of a separate topic needs to be inferred from the slightly larger space above it. I’ve found that when topics run on for several lines, and you have a few of these together, it isn’t instantly clear where one topic ends and the other begins. I do like the fact that the editor window isn’t cluttered with bullets, however.
  • Can only change the font for the entire outline, not word for word or topic to topic. You can, however, bold, italicize, or underline selectively.
  • When you hit RETURN at the end of a topic, a new sibling topic is created. This is expected behavior, but if you have already created a note for a topic, then, hitting RETURN creates the new sibling topic between the first topic and its note. This seems like a bug. The new topic should be created beneath the first topic AND its note.
    • In fact, I’m not sure how you create a new topic after a topic that has a note attached. The only way I’ve found to create new topics after a topic with a note is to create them after some other topic without a note, then move them to their rightful place.
  • I am not crazy about the fact that the bracket symbol keys (in conjunction with the option and/or command keys) are required for moving topics around the outline.

Beyond this list, there are clearly some pieces that are not finished yet. The “show toolbar” and “customize toolbar” selections under the VIEW menu remain grayed-out and inactive. Clicking “Outlinely Help” under the HELP menu achieves nothing.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

This is the Outlinely document shown in the above screen shots, exported as markdwon then opened in Ulysses III.

Clearly, the developers have a bit more work to do. Outlinely does not and (I hope) never will compete with a full-featured outliner such as OmniOutline. It lets you build structured documents quickly and easily, and gives you the tools to export your work to a bunch of other formats. I like it now as is. Once the developers add a few missing features and fix the “notes” issue, it will be a terrific little app.

Update: This app is seriously flawed. As I was running my little test on it, I never bothered to try to close the file and re-open it. I mean, why would you worry about that? Well, with this app you need to, as it won’t even re-open files that are supposedly in its own file format.

When you save a file, you have two choices: Outlinely Document and OPML. Well, saving the file in either format results in a warning when you try to re-open it that the program can’t.

Outlinely failing to open its own file!

Outlinely failing to open its own file!

Just for the record, I never opened or saved the file using OmniOutliner. I experimented with other files and got the same result, so it isn’t just one corrupt file. How could someone sell an app with this problem, and how can Apple sell it through the App Store? I’ll be contacting the developer and will post a resolution here, if and when it comes.

Update 2: I wrote to the developer and received a response within an hour and a suggestion for how to fix it. Turns out the problem resided in a corrupted associations database on my MacBook. The developer gave me a fix and now Outlinely indeed opens its own files. In six years of computing with Macs, I’ve never encountered this problem before.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 7 Comments

OneNote now free… or is it?

When I learned that Microsoft was going to be offering its note-keeping flagship application OneNote free, not only for Windows, but also for Mac and iPad, I was initially happy. I then started to have reservations that revolved around my concern that having such a behemoth free on all these platforms would suppress innovation by smaller developers, and that terrific apps like MagicalPad and Outline would wither on the vine. But, of course, I had to download the latest versions, not only because I am a CRIMPer and I can’t help myself, but because I am a fan of OneNote for Windows.

So I first loaded it on my MacBook Pro, and everything looked great. Sure, there are a lot of the Windows version features missing from the Mac version. Here are the ones I noticed right away:

  • No drawing features.
  • Export options limited to PDF.
  • No custom tags.
  • Can’t modify date format.

There are certainly many others — I haven’t checked, but I doubt the Mac version offers OCR of scanned text, for example.

But I could live with those limitations, because most of the key ones are there, including the same easy-to-build tables. But then I tried to install OneNote on my MacBook Air, and found I couldn’t, because OneNote requires OS 10.9 (also known as Mavericks). I have avoided upgrading the Air to Mavericks, because I regret having done so with the MB Pro, since that computer runs much slower since the upgrade, often grinding to a halt at times. So that was the first mark against a universal OneNote. Still, I could have lived with that, since I could use Outline to read my OneNote files and make edits to the text.

On my Windows PC at work, I’ve been using OneNote 2010, which I paid for. I was excited by the opportunity to upgrade for free to ON 2013, and did so. Everything looked peachy — the notebook I had created on my MacBook Pro synced beautifully with ON13 on my PC. I thought that I may have found an option that would allow me to drop Evernote completely, and even retire TheBrain (which I like, but which can be a little clunky and stodgy at times). But then I tried to add a new page to an existing notebook that is stored on my PC and not on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s version of Dropbox and iCloud. That’s when I got the following notice:

“Subscribe to Office to continue using this notebook.” Then, from the web page that opens from clicking the “Learn more” button:

Anyone can download and use the free version of OneNote. When you subscribe to Office 365 Home Premium for just $9.99 per month, you get the premium version of OneNote, which easily integrates with the other latest Office applications and comes with additional capabilities, including the ability to:

Create notebooks on your PC. Create notebooks saved to your hard drive (offline) in addition to being saved to your OneDrive. Being able to work with notebooks offline as well as online is great for anyone with a spotty network connection or those who are always on the go.

Support your business needs. Your notes are synced to your OneDrive for Business, so you and your teammates can collaborate easily. For added security, you can password-protect your notebooks. And with Office 365 you get the latest Office applications, which means you get a complete note-taking experience, with embedded Excel files and added Outlook tasks, meeting notes, and contacts.

Record your notes. Why just write or type your notes when you can video- or audio-record them at the same time? That way you’re sure not to miss any important information. Perfect for students and for those important meetings. (Emphasis added.)

Look, it’s not unreasonable that Microsoft wants to make money from their products, but this all feels a little like a bait and switch. There is no mention that there is a fee for full service from the download page. I’d be willing to pay a fee to get full service on all my devices, but I don’t want to be coerced into subscribing to Office when I have no use for any of the other apps.

I could, of course, go on using OneNote free and relying on SkyDrive for storing my information, but I’m uncomfortable with that option, since I live in a rural state and don’t always have wifi handy when I want to access that information. I also have a lot of information in notebooks on my PC that I have no need of storing in the cloud, but I would need to subscribe in order to keep using those notebooks with ON13. It looks like I CAN use ON10 on the PC and sync my notebooks as I did before, so there’s that. But it begins to feel like a real Frankenstein’s monster, with a system cobbled together from different editions of ON, as well as Outline.

I’m going to dabble with this OneNote cobble for a little while to see how it works, but I suspect that when it is all added up, I’ll probably end up dismissing it, not only because I am not comfortable with it, but because this discomfort makes it easier to continue to support smaller developers.

There is no free lunch.

Categories: Software | Tags: | 6 Comments

Quick bullet journal update

If I needed any proof that I was really committed to bullet journaling it has come in the form of a coffee mishap. About four weeks ago I managed to knock over my cup. I caught it before too much of the dark liquid spilled, but some of it managed to splash into the back pocket of my Tom Bihn Ristretto bag, the compartment where I stashed my Moleskine bullet journal. I sopped up the wayward joe, but enough soaked into the top to give a light brown tint and a slight wave to the upper ends of the pages… you know, how books get when they’ve been wet and then dried.

Anyway, this kind of accident would have normally sent me scurrying for a new notebook and a fresh start on clean, immaculate pages. But I was not prepared to put aside the information in my journal, so instead I decided to treat the stains as part of the historical record I was keeping in the pages of my notebook, just perhaps a little more graphic than my usual scrawling. Much to my surprise, I’ve been able to ignore the damage and have continued to use my notebook as if nothing had happened. I am now fully convinced that I am now a dedicated bullet journalist!

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Apple maybe not the evil empire after all

Sometimes it feels like Apple behaves a lot like the antagonist in its ground-breaking 1984 commercial that introduced the Mac, playing Big Brother over how its products are used. But I feel good in supporting Apple with my hardware purchases after seeing this article about how Apple CEO Tim Cook rejected push back from a conservative think tank on climate change:

If you want me to do things only for [return on investment] reasons, you should get out of this stock.

The think tank criticized Apple for hiring Lisa Jackson, formerly head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and for focusing on sustainability efforts. Nothing better reflects the morally bankrupt philosophy of radical conservatives than the response from the think tank:

After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change.

These conservatives care more about money than they do about people or the planet. Not to mention that sustainability is good business anyway.

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A good review of the writing app Ulysses III

When I write longer, more complex documents, I generally use Scrivener, but I will also use Ulysses III when I feel in a more minimalist mood. I did the initial transcription and editing of the journal of my nearly year-long bicycle trip in Ulysses III, and found it to work extremely well, partly because it was so easy to export the text to HTML, which I could just drop into my blog posts.

The writer David Hewson has posted a fairly extensive review of Ulysses III on his very informative blog. I would only add that the companion app for iPad, Daedalus, is quite good, and integrates seamlessly with Ulysses.

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Delaney & Bonnie Together (but not for long)

On this snowy day, when school, er… I mean work is cancelled, my wife, Amy, and I are listening to classic albums. One of these is Together, by the husband-wife duo of Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. This is such a great album, filled with wonderful songs, including two of D&B’s biggest hits, “Only You Know and I Know” and “Coming Home.” It also features a who’s who of great performers from that era. Check out the list of personnel:

Delaney Bramlett – guitar, vocals
Bonnie Bramlett – vocals
Eric Clapton – guitar, vocals
Leon Russell – piano, keyboards, vocals
Duane Allman – guitar, vocals
Dave Mason – guitar, vocals
Carl Radle – bass, vocals
John Hartford – banjo, vocals
Steve Cropper – guitar, vocals
Jim Gordon – drums, vocals
Red Rhodes – steel guitar, vocals
Jaimoe – drums, vocals
Billy Preston – keyboards, piano, vocals
Charlie Freeman – guitar, vocals
Kenny Gradney – bass, vocals
Bobby Whitlock – keyboards, vocals
Bobby Keys – saxophone, vocals
James Jamerson – bass, vocals
Jerry Jumonville – saxophone, vocals
King Curtis – saxophone, vocals
Larry Knechtel – bass, vocals
Darrell Leonard – trumpet, vocals
Jim Price – horns, vocals
Chuck Rainey – bass, vocals
Larry Savoie – trombone, vocals
Rita Coolidge – vocals
Tina Turner – vocals
Venetta Fields – vocals
Merry Clayton – vocals
Eddie Kendricks – vocals
Sam Clayton – vocals
Joe Hicks – vocals
Patrice Holloway – vocals
Tex Johnson – vocals
Clydie King – vocals
Sherlie Matthews – vocals
Gordon De Witty – vocals
Jay York – vocals

This is an overlooked classic album, one of the duo’s best (and sadly, their last, as they would divorce about the time the album was released). If you like classic rock laced with equal portions funk, R&B, and American roots rock, then this is an album you should love. Here’s a video of Coming Home featuring Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

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Scrivener as a note taker

Scrivener, the best app for writers, makes a darn good project manager too.

Scrivener, the best app for writers, makes a darn good project manager too.

Scrivener is the world’s best software for writers. I gave Scrivener a perfect score when I reviewed it for Mac Appstorm a few years ago (note: Appstorm is closing up shop, so this link may not be good into the future). I have not written much about Scrivener on this site, except in passing reference, because it is so good there’s really no need — and many other people write about it too.

However, I have often thought that Scrivener is so well designed that it could serve other purposes. One of these is as a project management center. I was reminded of this in the past couple of days when I read a review of Scrivener as a note-taker (referred to that article via the always interesting Taking Note blog of Manfred Kuhn). The author of the review is spot on with his observations about Scrivener. Reading the review did conjure up my old thoughts about how Scrivener could be used for tracking a project — especially if the project requires a lot of heavy note taking.

First off, let me make this observation: The reviewer’s main objection to making Scrivener your go-to note-taker is that it isn’t really designed to handle thousands of notes. No argument about that, but I would point out that this is a fault in “note keeping” not “note taking.” This is a key distinction because, in fact, Scrivener is an outstanding note-taking environment.

It is also designed to allow authors to manage the complexities of their writing projects, so it has built-in features for project management.

The advantages as I see them of Scrivener as a note-taking/project management app:

  • A terrific, flexible editor
  • Ample ways to add meta-data to your information
  • A versatile folder/document structure (called the binder), which also allows you to stash various kinds of files (such as spreadsheets, PDFs, images, etc…)
  • A versatile cork board/index card view of your information
  • A decent outline view of your information
  • Ample ability to export pieces of the project to create a proposal, document the plan, or report on the outcome
  • Templates and saved searches (collections) save time

Features Scrivener lacks for managing projects:

  • Any type of calendar view, including, of course, Gantt Charts or timelines.
  • Synchronization with Contacts or Calendar apps.
  • Inability to add dedicated “date” meta-data to your notes (that is, though you can create your own data fields, you can’t choose to make them date-specific fields — though you can add dates as simple strings).

There are doubtless other drawbacks to using Scrivener for this purpose, ones that would reveal themselves when putting this theory to the test (which I have not, since I generally do not have projects this big to manage).

Anyway, you can see a rudimentary project management file* I’ve created in Scrivener. in the screen shot above. In my imagined workflow, I would first plan my project with this file, filling out the documents in the folder “Project Report.” This would then be the basis for a proposal to my boss… if there were documents I didn’t want to include in the proposal, I would uncheck the “Include in Compile” checkbox in the Inspector for those documents. I could then easily output a nice looking proposal in PDF, Word or other formats. Once the project is approved, I could compile a plan for distribution to the team.

I could then track the status of my project using the milestone/tasks documents, as well as logging other information in appropriate places (i.e. under contacts, or progress log, etc…).

The outline view is a handy way to see an overview of milestones and tasks.

The outline view is a handy way to see an overview of milestones and tasks. (Note: The checkmarks at the start of the task lines are icons, not workable checkboxes.)

You can see the outline view in the screen shot above. Note that I’ve added two custom meta-data fields: “Target Completion Date” and “Assigned To.” I’ve also edited the standard Status states that Scrivener comes with (which, not surprisingly are good for a writing project, but not so much for a project project). You can easily add your own custom meta-data fields (for now only in the Mac version of Scrivener) or edit the status fields with the Meta Data Settings control window (available under the Project menu).

Change meta data settings and create your own custom meta-data fields (only in Mac) using the Meta Data Settings control.

Change meta data settings and create your own custom meta-data fields (only in Mac) using the Meta Data Settings control.

When the project concludes, you can compile your notes for importing into a long-term notes management application like DevonThink (on Mac).

This is just a quick and simple example of how Scrivener could be used to manage a non-writing project. It certainly won’t take the place of a dedicated project management application for really complex projects. And it may be overkill for simple task-based projects. But for projects of mid-level complexity, especially ones that require a lot of reporting to supervisors, I think Scrivener could do an excellent job.

*The actual Scrivener term for the open file is “project” but it is awkward to write “project management project,” so I’m going to refer to it as a file.

Categories: Software | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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