A Kindred Spirit on 'Interesting' Software


I don't know anything about Jack Baty, listed as "Director of Unspecified Services" at his eponymous site. Mascot photo from his site at right; I have no idea whether that's actually him. But I think we have some things in common, based on his recent post about the main problem has had with software for organizing info, tasks, and other digital junk. As Baty puts it, emphasis added:

Keeping track of All the Things(™) isn't that difficult. Or at least it shouldn't be, but I find it nearly impossible.

The problem for me isn't a lack of software, it's the abundance of great software. Here is a list of software I've used to keep track of all the digital detritus in my life:

... and he goes on to list nearly a dozen programs, most of which I've used -- along with many others! He doesn't even get into such timeless classics as Lotus Agenda, the still-evolving Zoot, TheBrain, MindManager, OmniFocus, Scapple, Thinking Rock, and .... Wisest not to get me started.

In practical terms, what Baty says is where I've also ended up:

While I love them all, I've whittled it down to 3 apps: Tinderbox, Evernote, and DEVONthink.

Tinderbox is my notebook. Evernote is my junk drawer. DEVONthink is my filing cabinet.

He goes on to explain what those analogies mean. For the record, Tinderbox and DEVONthink are Mac-only; Evernote is trans-platform; plucky Zoot is Window-only; and Lotus Agenda runs on DOS! Of course, stay on the lookout for whatever David Allen and Intentional Software are cooking up.

For decades now it's been a careful balance, between the time I "save" through new "productive" software, and the time I "waste" trying out each new release. I am somehow relieved to know that I'm not the only one contemplating this balance.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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