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Flowstate. The writing app that feels like a monster creeping up on you

Just for the heck of it, I decided to purchase Flowstate, the writing app that forces you to keep writing for a specified time or all the work you’ve done to that point disappears. Permanently. I’ve decided to let the results of my first writing session serve as a review for Flowstate. The review starts below the screen capture.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 9.48.22 AM

Okay, so I am trying Flowstate, the writing app that forces you to keep writing or you lose all the writing you’ve done during that session to the point you quit.

Does this make sense?

I can see the rationale. Whether or not it works for me is the question.

So here I am. Writing.

Writing is an important aspect of my life. But I don’t do enough of it. If Flowstate helps me write more, then the $10 I spent for it will be worth it.

I’m not sure yet how you get your writing OUT of Flowstate and into another writing app for editing. I guess I’ll find that out at the end, assuming I don’t wind up losing all this text.

Another question is whether free flow of text is really a productive approach for me. Maybe I’ll be able to judge that after I see what I’ve produced here. It is really nerve wracking to see the text start to fade away when I stop writing for even a second or two. All my text will simply go away if I stop for five seconds. It feels like one of those horror movies where the protagonist knows that the monster is creeping up behind her. Don’t turn around!!!

So I’m continuing to write. I set this initial session for 10 minutes. I’ve been writing for six, so far. Still four minutes to go.

When you start Flowstate, you are presented with a simple screen. You can adjust how long you must write and what font to use.

If your brain gets stuck, you can just hold down one key for a while then hold down the delete key. Flowstate interprets this as writing. It’s a hack. I haven’t done this yet, but I think it will work.

Having this app is like having a Nazi SS officer demanding that you reveal where you’ve hidden the classic artwork.

I am going to publish this as my review of Flowstate on my blog and you can judge for yourself if the result was worth anything… Twenty seconds to go. I think I’m going to make it… just keep writing… and now….


So there you have it. I’m going to keep using Flowstate for a while and see if the results get better. By the way, you can simply export the results of your writing session as a text file. There are also ways to push it to other apps, like email and notes. I’ve added Curiota as an option for exporting, which basically makes it available on any device I have through Dropbox.

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Errol Flynn — the only true Robin Hood — was born today in 1909

errol-flynn-robin-hood-the-adventures-of-robin-hood

Welcome to Sherwood, my lady.

That’s just one of the famous lines from The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, who was born today in 1909 in Hobart, Tasmania. Few actors could buckle a swash like Flynn. Though hard living in real life killed hill at age 50.

Since I took the name of the blog from that famous line, I’ll wish Errol Flynn a happy birthday in that Sherwood Forest in the sky.

The Revenant – my reactions

DiCaprio in The Revenant

[Revised version.]

I finally got to see The Revenant this weekend on a DVD disk from Netflix. There is much to admire about this movie. Great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Breathtaking imagery. And the scene in which DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is mauled by a grizzly bear is stunning filmmaking.

SPOILERS AHEAD

All and all I found The Revenant compelling. But in the end I was disappointed. The problem is my familiarity with the true story of Hugh Glass, epic without the embellishments layered on by the film.  (For a reasonable recounting of the differences between the historical record and the film version of Hugh Glass’s story, see here.)

The film adds elements that I found distracting and even annoying. The emotional center of the film, the murder of Glass’s Pawnee wife by American soldiers and the subsequent murder of his son by one of his companions, is totally fabricated (there is no evidence he had a wife or that, if he did, she was killed in a raid; there is no record of his having a son, and even if he did have one, there is no way he would have been old enough to join in a trapping excursion). Knowing this as I watched the movie made me feel manipulated by the filmmakers. The real Hugh Glass crawled 200 miles, not to mete out noble justice for the death of his son, but simply to survive. Perhaps wanting vengeance for being abandoned by his companions fueled his desire to live, but in the end he never did kill anyone over his abandonment. He just returned to trapping until he was killed by Indians ten years later, in 1833.

There are two story threads involving a party of villainous French-Canadian trappers, and a noble band of Arikara Indians trying to rescue the kidnapped daughter of one of its own. These two strands are improbably woven into Glass’s story — making the vast wilderness of the American west seem a very crowded place.

I also found it gratuitous that the leader of the Arikaras makes a short speech about how the white man has stolen everything from them. Remember, this story takes place in 1823, before there has been much incursion by whites into far west. I doubt very much that the Arikaras or any other western tribes felt that everything had been stolen from them by the white man, yet. They surely did justifiably come to feel that way but that would not be for another 40 years or more.

Had this story been set later in the 19th century and not involved real-life, historical people, I would have appreciated it more. It is a good movie, but falls far short of the best mountain man film of all time, Jeremiah Johnson. That’s another movie based on a book, which is inspired by a true story. But both the novelist (Vardis Fisher) and the filmmaker (the great Sydney Pollack) use fictional characters, only taking the true story of Liver-Eating Johnson as a starting point.

Embellishments are necessary in telling Glass’s story, I suppose. Watching a man crawl 200 miles, no matter how heroic, would be a bore. But this film does not honor Hugh Glass, because it does not trust that his real story is worth telling. Instead it wraps Glass in a bearskin of supernaturalism, as visions of his fictional wife keep appearing to him until the ultimate villain in the story is dead. Then Hugh Glass stops fighting death and embraces it. The film ends in blackness as we hear Hugh Glass take his final breath.

The real Hugh Glass would have fought to the bitter end.

And a final thought: The wild west of the mountain man was violent and dangerous. But it was also a time and place of fabulous adventures. Mountain men, even those who made some money from their efforts, kept returning to the trade, drawn by the freedom of living among the fabulous beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The Revenant fails to acknowledge this, painting instead a bleak and miserable portrait of these men.

The sun never shines throughout the entire film.

 

 

Outlines and inline notes

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article about using Tinderbox as an outliner. My conclusion was that the outline view in Tinderbox is a terrific outline application. Just about the only feature it lacked is inline notes. The conversation that cropped up today about this feature prompted me to think about how I might implement a workaround in Tinderbox that would at least approximate inline notes. Before I get to that, I first want to talk a little bit about my opinions regarding inline notes.

This feature mostly only matters in single-pane outliners. That is, those outliners where all the relevant information is presented in one pane. Why it matters is that you want to see the notes relating to a topic displayed “inline” with the topic and not in a separate pane. This allows you to view the notes for all the nearby topics at one time. A little more about why this is important a little further down.

I feel like inline notes are an under appreciated feature of a sophisticated outlining application. That’s probably because most people have never actually been able to use an outline that handled inline notes. Either the app doesn’t have inline notes as a feature, or the feature is rudimentally implemented.

Two definitions before continuing:

  • Heading or topic – Each individual item in an outline is a heading (or call it a topic). That is, if it has a bullet or an alphanumeric label, it is a heading.
  • Note – In some outliners, the note is merely additional meta data. In a small number of other outliners, it can be the main text that describes the heading under which it is associated. Every note is associated with a heading.

OmniOutliner is one of the more fully featured outliners on the market, including the ability to add notes and view them inline. Its approach is pretty standard, so it will serve as a good example of the current state of inline notes.

These screen shots demonstrate how inline notes work in OmniOutliner:

Sample OmniOutliner Document.

Sample OmniOutliner Document. Don’t confuse those long paragraphs as inline notes. They are each a separate heading.

 

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

To add a note to an OmniOutliner topic, click the note icon.

 

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

By default, the inline note is made to have a lower-level of importance by appearance.

 

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

The note now appearing in the note pane. You can toggle this action.

Notes in OmniOutliner are clearly intended to be meta-data and not the substance of the heading the notes are associated with. This is a fine approach for a lot of purposes, but it is not ideal for writers. I suspect anyone using OmniOutliner for writing will take the approach demonstrated here; which is to just write paragraphs in the headings instead of using the notes for the content.

Grandview’s take on notes

The best application of inline notes that I have ever seen or used was that of Grandview, the DOS outliner I wrote about here. With Grandview you created your outline headings and could associate a full-text document with each heading, as demonstrated below:

Document text viewed "inline" in the GrandView outline

Document text viewed “inline” in the GrandView outline

Grandview treated notes as full-fledged documents in their own right, but allowed you to view them in the outliner or not, as you chose. If you wished, you could isolate the text of the document to focus solely on composing. Like this:

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Dedicated document window in GrandView

Here is what I had to say about why I feel this is important for writers:

An important point here is that this text is not a separate headline or node. It is directly associated with a headline and can be viewed inline, in its own window, or collapsed and not visible in the outline. This visual flexibility is a powerful feature for writers, because it allows you to switch from a focused view of your writing to the big picture. You can work on getting each section of the text right, then make sure the entire work flows smoothly with appropriate transitions. Two-pane outliners… force you to keep your writing in separate, discrete blocks. To this day, no other application has matched GrandView for providing this combination of powerful outlining tools AND single-pane, inline text. I have yet to find any outliner that matches Grandview for handling these this inline content.

I wrote that over six years ago, and it is still true. (I hope someone out there can show me I’m wrong.)

An inline notes workaround for Tinderbox

So my Tinderbox inline notes workaround. You can add columns to an outline view in Tinderbox. The columns can display any of the attributes for the headings in your Tinderbox outline. One of those attributes is “text”, which is the notes content.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

Tinderbox with outline view selected. I have only populated it with a few notes.

If you’ve read my article about Tinderbox as an outliner, you know that you can add columns to the outline view, and fill those columns with data from any of the notes’ attributes. The text within the note is the “text” attribute, so you can add that as a column. So you can minimize the notes pane and view the text in the outline view as demonstrated in the screenshot below:

Outline view in Tinderbox with the "Text" attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

Outline view in Tinderbox with the “Text” attribute displayed in the outline as a separate column.

As you can see, the result isn’t exactly “inline” notes. And, sadly, the text doesn’t wrap to multiple lines so you can only read the contents as far as you can stretch the column. But this does provide an overview of content in a single pane, so it might prove useful to some.

My conclusion, however, is the search goes on for a single-pane outliner that can handle inline notes effectively for writers.

A simple solution to the PED/HOF quagmire

Every year at this time — Baseball Hall of Fame balloting time — we get a plague of hand-wringing from baseball pundits about whether or not players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs should receive support for enshrinement.

For the record, I’m on the side that believes if there is a lot of evidence  that the player did cheat (as in the case of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens), they do not deserve to be in the Hall.

But I feel sorry for guys like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell for whom there is no evidence, only suspicion. There will be other players on the fringe like this in the years to come. And that isn’t fair. I don’t blame the voters for this. I blame the players who did cheat, because we KNOW players cheated. With a few exceptions (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettit), we just don’t know who.

Here is my simple solution: The players who did cheat should just fess up. Then the game can move forward. Man up, fellows. Anyone who didn’t confess, we’d take at his word. There will be some who still don’t admit it, but they’ll just have to live with themselves.

Imagine Roger Clemens calling a press conference on the day Hall of Fame voting results are announced:

The issue of PED use has plagued baseball long enough. This is not fair to the fans, and it is not fair to the players — my teammates — who played clean. That’s why I am admitting today that I did take PEDs for a significant part of the final decade of my career.

I know this may permanently exclude me from being elected into the Hall of Fame, but we need to set the record straight. I am calling for all players who took PEDs to join me in admitting what they did. It is the only way the game can move on.

Other players would come forward, first slowly, but soon there would be dozens and even more. This act by Clemens would in itself earn my respect and support for induction to the Hall. All it would take is a little courage.

But that’s why it will never happen. And that’s why players like Clemens and Bonds do NOT deserve to be elected to sports’ most honored shrine.

Notesuite sold off and no longer available.

Notesuite, the promising note-taking application for iPad and Mac, announced a couple of months ago that it had been acquired and that the application would no longer be available. While disappointing, this announcement is not surprising. The company had not released an update to the app for a while, and blew off repeated requests for information about the status of the application. And last spring they ominously released a utility for exporting notes out of the application for use in other note-taking software.

I am sorry to see the end of Notesuite. I thought it had great potential, though it needed some polishing. Why one company would buy another then discontinue the product is a bit intriguing. That’s what happened when Dropbox acquired Hackpad. It makes me conjecture that some of Notesuite’s features will find their way into some other app. (Evernote has recently announced some major new features are on the horizon with their note editor.)

In the end, however, people who paid for Notesuite (for both Mac and on the iOS) are left with an empty bag and a need to find another place to put their work. I am sure it is difficult to sustain a software business, but this feels like just one more cautionary tale: buyer beware and keep your work in multiple places.

Still Alive

Things I’m thinking about:

  • Crappy Red Sox season
  • Using Tinderbox more than I do
  • Wondering why they didn’t replace the actor who played Matthew on Downton Abbey instead of killing him off (the character, that is, not the actor) when the actor wanted to leave the show. Didn’t they ever watch Bewitched?
  • The hike I’m leading at Mount Independence this coming Sunday.
  • All the changes at my workplace in the last seven months.
  • What draconian new measures El Capitan will impose on my Macs?
  • El Capitan? What a stupid name! (Hope Apple’s not making a mountain out of a mole hill.)
  • Why is older science fiction so much better than the new stuff?
  • Why can’t Hollywood actually make a good science fiction movie?
  • When the mainstream media starts tarring and feathering Bernie Sanders with false accusations and innuendo, then we’ll know he’s scaring the people who own this country.
  • It’s cool that there are two new books about one of my heroes, Edward Abbey. See here and here.

I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post here. I thought I better demonstrate that I’m still alive, so this post.

Bullet Journaling

I’ve been intrigued by Bullet Journaling since I first heard about it last August. The person who conceived of the system, Ryder Carroll, explains it very well on the web site, so I won’t try to give a full run down here. Essentially Bullet Journaling is a system for keeping track of your daily tasks and notes using a pen and notebook. If you haven’t seen it in action you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s a diary, moron.” Well it is a little more and a little less than that. At its heart is a concept called “rapid logging,” in which you record brief bits of data as they come to you. Each entry is a short bullet item, where you lead the note with a simple symbol that signifies if the item is an event (an open circle), a task (a check box) or a note (small, solid bullet). Additional symbols can be used to mark an item as important, as requiring further inquiry, etc… If you are trying to implement Carroll’s system completely, you also add calendars and other collections of information.

There has been a flurry of interest in Bullet Journaling, and searching Google will reveal quite a few commentaries on the system. I suspect part of the appeal simply comes from Carroll’s wonderful presentation of the concept. But Bullet Journaling does have some advantages that appeal to me:

  • Speed. Pulling out a notebook and making a short note is faster for me than trying to enter that same information in a digital device at the time the information lands in my lap. If I don’t make the note at that time, then I’ll probably forget to do it.
  • Off the grid. In a time when there is so much uncertainty about the security and privacy of online information, it is appealing to have a system that does not rely at all on “the cloud.”
  • Independence. I like the idea of not having to rely upon software, computer, or cloud companies. Nor is the system dependent upon battery life, or access to wifi.
  • Simplicity. There’s not a lot to remember, just three little symbols, and those symbols provide significant meta-data about the information, as well as a quick way to track the status.
  • Integrated. Lists include notes, tasks and events in one integrated view.
  • Flexibility. There is nothing rigid about Bullet Journaling. Carroll makes it clear that you should use the parts you like, change or discard the parts you do not like. “I hope that you take the ideas presented here and apply/adapt them so they work best for you.”

But there are drawbacks to Bullet Journaling. The ones that seem most crucial to me are the following:

  • Repetitious. As Carroll describes his system, it requires a great deal of copying of notes from one location in the notebook to another. This is probably good practice, as it helps you to not lose track of these details. In fact, it is essential in a system that doesn’t have mechanisms to remind you of these details. But I know that I’d find this tedious, and would not do it consistently.
  • No backup. Lose your notebook, you lose your data.
  • No export. To use the information you’ve gathered, you need to transcribe it into a computer. This is no big deal with short notes, but if you’ve outlined a plan, or made longer notes, this can become inefficient.
  • No search. With Bullet Journaling, you’re supposed to create an index page, where you log the locations of your information in your notebook so that you can find it when you need it. But this is clearly ineffective for real data mining, as all information falls into more than one category. Also it is one more piece of extra work, which kind of defeats the whole “rapid logging” concept.
  • Insufficient calendar. The calendar that Carroll proposes for his system is intended as a method for tracking activity, rather than as a way to manage a busy schedule. Consequently, you still need to keep a separate calendar, which eats away at the efficiency of the “system.”

Some people will find keeping a Bullet Journal liberating and effective. Others will miss all they computing power they’ve given up for this simplicity. I fall somewhere in between, I think. I want to see if I can leverage the best aspects of the system, while “fixing” the disadvantages.

Clearly, some of the cons flow directly from the pros, as in the “off-the-grid” but “no backup” dilemma. I can’t expect to have all the advantages of Bullet Journaling and none of the disadvantages. Where Bullet Journaling really excels, in my opinion, is in the intake of information. It is fast. It is reliable. It is simple. It is flexible.

So, Bullet Journaling is a good front end to an information management system. Does it have to actually happen with pen and paper? Can an app work for this front end? I’m thinking, maybe. Of course, using an app destroys the “independence” and “off-the-grid” aspects of the Bullet Journal system. I don’t think that can be helped, not for me. Because all of the disadvantages of the system that I’ve named make it a non-starter for me. If I’m going to get any benefit from the system, I have to solve those.

I believe I have found a compromise that will work, but before I report on that, I need to use it for a week or two. Stay tuned.

Update: I’ve written further about my bullet journal here.

Sunny Friday

I am out and about today, but I’m avoiding any retail stores. Why do people care so much about saving a few dollars on what is mostly just foreign made junk? Instead of pushing through crowds at Junk-Mart, I’m enjoying a sunny, if cold day.

Saw a tweet today from Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks:

Black Friday: Bc only in America do people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

13,000 miles by bicycle around America

Starting near Washington, DC, and finishing 13,000 miles and almost 11 months later in Vermont.

Starting near Washington, DC, and finishing 13,000 miles and almost 11 months later in Vermont.

From October 5, 1980, to August 20, 1981, I was engaged in a 13,000-mile bicycle trip around the United States. I recently finished transcribing my journal from this trek and posting it on a blog I set up just for that purpose. I am calling this site 36 Busted Spokes Later, because that’s how many wheel spokes I had to replace during the journey.

This was really a thrilling experience for me, as I had never read those journals before, besides occasionally referring to an entry for a specific detail. Making this transcription (as well as rewriting and appending information where applicable) gave me the feeling of traveling through those days all over again. There were so many details in the pages of the journal that I hadn’t recalled until reading them, others that I’d forgotten about completely. On the other hand, I have many memories of the trip, fun and interesting events, that I somehow inexplicably never recorded.  I’ve added those events, filled in other details that are appropriate, and tried to edit the entries to make them more entertaining and readable.

The entire exercise was great fun. I am very happy I did it, glad to have it complete, but a wee bit sad too. Just how I felt when I concluded the trip.