Steve Zeoli, of Vermont, has over the years proudly identified himself as a sufferer of CRIMP -- Compulsive Reactive Information Manager Purchasing. This is of course the same syndrome I euphemistically describe as "a taste for 'interesting' software," and it has led Zeoli, like me, to keep trying every new info-handling system that appears. It has also led him to a series of illuminating chronicles about these programs. My purpose in writing today is to point toward some of his recent entries on the newest edition of The Brain (he is also the source of the screenshot above). They are:
- An overview of the Brain's improvements, strengths, and limits;
- a description of how he uses The Brain as a "commonplace book";
- how he uses Tinderbox for the same purpose (hey, endlessly trying out new tools for the same job is an "opportunity," not a waste or distraction, in CRIMP-land);
- an early Tinderbox-v-Brain smackdown highlighting their respective traits;
- and others you'll see on his site.
If you are interested in software, you will be interested in this.
Winter is coming, as they would say in Game of Thrones land. By which I mean not the actual season but grim-toned political discussion ahead. So again let's pause to look on the bright side with:
1) Chinese hoops. Here is a very nice brief video, courtesy of reader AK and SB Nation, of Stephon Marbury joyously celebrating with his Beijing Ducks teammates after their victory over the Guangdong Southern Tigers to win the Chinese Basketball Association championship. Really, this is heartwarming in about twelve different ways -- and a partial balm for this season's untimely end to Linsanity.
2) Aussie beer. The promised full retrospective report is still to come. But as a guide to anyone who wonders whether Australia's brewers, long famed for blah watery lagers, could produce something more ambitious, here are another two signs of progress.
One is the Stow Away IPA entry in the James Squire line of craft brews, shown below in its natural setting in a James Squire brewpub in Hobart. (The company itself is based in Sydney -- and is owned by Kirin, which in turn is part of the Mitsubishi combine.) Stow Away is the purple one on the left and is about the closest thing I've found in the Antipodes to the current American-style IPAs.
Here is how it looks in action at the brewpub, at right, showing its convincing rich hue. It's the one being held; the other is the Four Wives Pilsener. Be warned that until the Aussie palate becomes fully evolved and moves the market with it, this still seems relatively hard to find. Many "bottle shops" that stock the rest of the James Squire line seem not to know about Stow Away.
The other candidate: from the Malt Shovel Mad Brewers (a James Squire subsidiary), a short-term summer seasonal offering called "Hoppy Hefe." I wouldn't have picked this out as a Hefeweizen, since it doesn't look cloudy or taste particularly of wheat. But it certainly is full of hops, which makes it unusual locally and for which I am grateful. It's also full of alcohol: 7% (like Supplication and some others from the famed Russian River line), so a little goes a long way. This southern-hemisphere summer season is ending rather than beginning, and so is this beer's run, so if you see a bottle, don't miss the chance. Side note: beer is expensive in Australia, largely because of taxes, and this is extra-premium priced, at roughly $10 for a 640ml bottle, about the size of two "normal" bottles. Close-up shot of the bottle, so you can recognize it, below.
3) Interesting software. Over the years -- really, decades -- I have ended up playing working with the same set of "interesting" programs for storing info, classifying it and moving it around, and generally observing the relationship between software and thought. The perennial favorites include Zoot, Windows-only, which I've used for nearly 20 years and is recently available in a whole new version; Tinderbox, Mac only, a more recent favorite; Mind Manager, Windows and Mac, which I find useful for outlining (as I do OmniOutliner, for Mac and iPad); and among others (including the indispensable Mac duo of Scrivener and DevonThink) there is also Personal Brain, for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I won't take the time to lay out the whole theory of this idiosyncratic but seductive program. I will say that a new version, The Brain 7, is out in beta, and I've been using and liking it. If this is the sort of thing you are interested in, you will be interested in this.
I've mentioned several times my use of and enthusiasm for Scrivener, a $39.95 writing program put out by a two-person operation in Cornwall, England. It's Mac-only, so stop right here if that means you can't consider it. (With VMware Fusion, I can happily run any Windows program on a Mac, but things don't work the other way around.)
Actually, don't stop right here, since the traits that make this program (logo at left) valuable are in principle ones that could be applied in other writing and research programs. Because it helps explain these useful features, and not because it's essentially a free ad for Scrivener (with which I have no connection of any sort, other than as a customer), I quote a note from a recent convert, Noah Ennis, a graduating senior at the University of Chicago. He talks mainly about two of the program's features: a simple-sounding but surprisingly important "full screen mode," which blocks out everything else happening on the computer so you can concentrate just on what you're writing; and a "project" organization system that makes it easy to amass many notes, files, quotes, research documents, etc related to the essay or article or book you're writing. Again the point about what follows is, it tells us something about this particular program, which may or may not suit your computer-using tastes; but it also suggests broader truths about the ways computers help and hinder the way we think. Ennis wrote this to me because I suggested the program to him. He says:
I don't think I've ever been excited about software, but this is something that's such a quantitative increase in efficiency (by lowering the energy tax on storage, retrieval, and switching between documents) that it qualitatively changes the way I read and write on the computer. Here are four areas in which it's drastically changed my computer life:
1. It makes all writing projects, but especially any large project, easier and more pleasant. My old method was to have a bunch of different Word documents open, and to move between them with a lot of time spent searching for windows and a lot of redundant writing. For [his undergraduate thesis], I ended up with something like 40 documents of which I only ever used 8 or 10. In Scrivener everything is instantly accessible and easy to switch to, which paradoxically means that I can write more haphazardly-- I can paste large block quotes from sources instead of putting a link, I can keep multiple outlines going at the same time as I'm writing. To say nothing of the full screen mode. I'm completely baffled that appleworks, word, and textedit haven't done something as simple as allow document loading from a side bar, or implement a fullscreen button (or if they have, I'm baffled at my and my friend's ignorance of these features). I'm convinced that if I had Scrivener when I was writing the [thesis], I could have saved literally dozens of hours of redundant work simply from better organization.
2. Scrivener means that I can keep all of my lists and files in one or two central places, instead of in 50 word documents in my OS X dock. I used to have to hunt for the appropriate document every time I wanted to store a word, quote, book title, new concept, article, person's name, block of text to read later, etc.. Now I can do it in one place (and again, paradoxically, this means I can multiply the number of bins I have because the attention externality of each bin is so much lower. So I can make a bin for quotes about "ways of reading" where before that level of specificity would take too much time to access quickly and frequently).
3. Scrivener gives me a central place to keep all of my French word lists, tasks, practice, and articles, where before I had some horrible mixture of documents, website bookmarks, notecards, etc., etc. Since language study is hard and I go out of my way to avoid it, making it even slightly more convenient is a big help.
4. Scrivener allows me to create daily reading assignments that are centralized (one document) and offline (not distracting), and to simultaneously archive what I've been reading (and to keep notes on it in the same place). So when I see something to read, rather than adding its url to a list and hoping to go back to it, I can paste the text into a scrivener document for that day or week, meaning a) I have an effortless record of what I'm reading, b) I have a place to go to procrastinate, rather than idling about blogs and websites, and c) I can do the reading with the wireless turned off, so I don't check email every 15 seconds as is my way.
Overall, a magnificent product and im shocked that the mainstream word processors dont copy the more obvious features (full screen, documents on side, not having page breaks).
Again, this is interesting incidentally because it's about one program but more generally for what it says about the ways computers work with, and against, our brains.
Following previous dispatches here and here about the endless, quixotic search for the ideal outlining program, many people wrote in to sing the praises of a Windows-based program I had not been aware of: InfoQube, or IQ. (Hardee-har!! I get it!) Sample testimonial note from someone who identifies himself as "a highly satisfied user" and who doesn't appear to be connected to the company:
"I'd like to let you know that InfoQube (IQ), while still a bit unknown and not out of beta yet (but soon to reach v1.0 ), is a very powerful Outliner too!
"In my humble opinion, probably the most powerful and flexible out there. Really. I have been using it for the last 2 years, doing incredible things with it... Not only does it do outlining, but it also has a calendar, Gantt charts, pivot tables, etc.
"It's not your typical software : it takes an open mind and a bit of reading (not that much!) to understand its principles. These small initial efforts are quite rewarding, that's for sure!
Have a look at it (Download), and feel free to ask questions on our friendly Forum. ["Our" = user community, not speaking for the company itself] Pierre Paul Landry, our IQ talented, dedicated and friendly developer, answers many questions himself."
Here's a thematic illustration from the company's site, on the "Qube" theme. (Click for bigger.) Disappointingly, the actual program is confined to normal 2-D computer screen displays. I have not yet tried InfoQube myself, but I received enough mail from people who have that it seemed worth mentioning.
While I'm on the subject of satisfied users, I have mentioned several times the modestly-priced, Mac-based writing program Scrivener, on which I am relying for more and more of my work. An impressive list of writers (mainly novelists) who have become devotees is here. Worth considering.
While out of range for the past week, I've not weighed in on a lot of subjects I would normally have a view on, from the Nigerian would-be suicide bomber, to the nature and function of the TSA, to the implications of press and judicial developments within China, to the latest twist in China's policy on the RMB.
I will plan to catch up, on each and all, in the next day or two. For the moment ... how about a promising entry from the world of "interesting" technology?
What I have in mind is Thinklinkr, a free, "cloud"-based outlining program that very much deserves attention. Since the dawn of the personal computing age, outlining programs have constituted a fascinating but often heartbreaking product category. Fascinating because they are an essential component of electronic "thinking tools." (Another essential component: systems for collecting, organizing, and retrieving info. And ideally one more: something to do the actual thinking and writing. So far, no dice.) Heartbreaking because several of the best entries have atrophied or been orphaned, and others are minority tastes.
Perhaps it's mainly rosy retrospect, but I still think the classic DOS outliner GrandView was the best I've ever used. Background on GrandView here. Those I use and like these days include the elegantly minimalist BrainStorm (PC only); the intriguing-in-many-ways PersonalBrain (PC, Mac, LInux); the also-intriguing MindManager (PC, Mac); OmniOutliner (Mac); plus the outlining functions in the wonderful Mac-only writing program Scrivener; plus the outlining functions in the upcoming Version 6 release of the wonderful PC-only "idea processor," Zoot. (Zoot 6 is in late beta.) And some others I am forgetting right now.
I give that long warmup to say that I've always cared about this field, and I find Thinklinkr a worthy new contender,as a very fast, very flexible online outlining tool. Its basis in the "cloud" means that you don't have to worry about Mac/PC issues nor about synching among your different machines. You do, of course, have to be online. It also keeps track of previous versions of an outline, and allows users in differently places to collaborate in real time. Worth checking out. (Partial screenshot below, and further info below that.)
Reference section: For a history of the outlining field in general, start here; for a later "rediscovery" of outlines, go here. For my previous perspectives on and judgments about other "thinking" systems, see this about Zoot; this about BrainStorm; and this about Personal Brain. For a blog by the designers of Thinklinkr, see a sample entry here and main page here. I have written to the company to ask about the ideas behind the program and will post the answers shortly. Thanks to Michael Ham for the lead.
I am a long-standing devotee of the David Allen "Getting Things Done" (GTD) approach to life, as I first described in this Atlantic article about him four years ago. We've become friends and stayed in touch since then too, which at least for me has been very enjoyable. Plus, since long before the Atlantic wrote about him he has been a loyal subscriber!
The GTD Way mainly involves habits of mind and action, but it also places a lot of emphasis on having the right tools, gizmos, and gimmicks to support those habits. Over the years I've used a variety of software to set up GTD-based systems on my computer. Ones I've liked include Results Manager and Chandler. The one I keep coming back to for my own purposes, more than a dozen years after I started using it, is the idiosyncratic but powerful Zoot. Zoot is PC-only, and for that matter text-only (no graphics etc), but it runs flawlessly on a Mac under VMWare Fusion.
Here are three more to bear in mind, with different strengths and idiosyncracies of their own:
1. OmniFocus (Mac only), from the same group that makes the excellent Mac outliner OmniOutliner. This is the most straightforward of the programs I'm mentioning here. You set up Projects, Contexts, Actions, etc, straight out of the GTD gospel, and you go from there.
2. ThinkingRock (PC, Mac, Linux), from a tiny firm in Sydney, Australia. Maybe I should move to Australia: apart from the obvious attractions, a disproportionate amount of "interesting" software seems to come from there. I've previously praised Surfulater, for collecting and sorting material from the internet, and Rationale (and its offshoot bCisive), designed to assess the strength and logic of arguments. ThinkingRock is from this same innovative tradition. It looks "different" (see below; click for slightly bigger version), it has a different kind of logic from the standard old PC-based program, but it also adheres very closely to the GTD vision and spirit. Like Zoot, it takes some adjustment and learning. (I still prefer Zoot to all others because it is almost infinitely configurable and adjustable.) But certainly worth checking out.
3. MonkeyGTDWiki, which also is absolutely intriguing in the way it looks and works, and also clearly springs from the GTD tradition. The simplest way to explain it is as a browser-based personal Wiki, which you can configure to show your projects, actions, contexts, deadlines, and so on. Demo here and underlying info about the TiddlyWiki engine here. Because it's browser-based, it obviously works with any kind of computer. It requires more digging-in even than Zoot, but it has its rewards. Have fun. Also, this post from LifeHacker discusses some other GTD systems.
Update: Discussion of a zillion, or more precisely 102, GTD-related programs can be found here.
Understanding the events of 1979 is crucial for those trying to figure out a better future for today’s Middle East.
What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars.
Though the past had coups and wars too, they were contained in time and space, and the future still held much promise. What happened to us? The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism in the bars of Beirut, or riding bicycles on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.
He understands men in America better than most people do. The rest of the country should start paying attention.
Every morning of my Joe Rogan experience began the same way Joe Rogan begins his: with the mushroom coffee.
It’s a pour-and-stir powder made from lion’s mane and chaga—“two rock-star mushrooms,” according to Joe—and it’s made by a company called Four Sigmatic, a regular advertiser on Joe Rogan’s wildly popular podcast. As a coffee lover, the mere existence of mushroom coffee offends me. (“I’ll have your most delicious thing, made from your least delicious things, please,” a friend said, scornfully.) But it tastes fine, and even better after another cup of actual coffee.
Next, I took several vitamin supplements from a company called Onnit, whose core philosophy is “total human optimization” and whose website sells all kinds of wicked-cool fitness gear—a Darth Vader kettlebell ($199.95); a 50-foot roll of two-and-a-half-inch-thick battle rope ($249.95); a 25-pound quad mace ($147.95), which according to one fitness-equipment site is a weapon dating back to 11th-century Persia. I stuck to the health products, though, because you know how it goes—you buy one quad mace and soon your apartment is filled with them. I stirred a packet of Onnit Gut Health powder into my mushroom coffee, then downed an enormous pair of Alpha Brain pills, filled with nootropics to help with “memory and focus.”
Sometime this week, you might walk outside in broad daylight, look up at the sky, and see a luminous orb as bright as a full moon. Only it wouldn’t be the moon. It would be something far more explosive: the dazzling aftermath of a cataclysm hundreds of light-years away.
You’d be seeing the light from a supernova—the final, powerful flash of a dying star.
Or … you might see the regular old sky. Supernovas are nearly impossible to predict. But astronomers have recently started discussing the rare possibility with a bit more enthusiasm than usual, thanks to some odd behavior elsewhere in the Milky Way. If the supernova did show up tomorrow, it would be the celestial event of the year, perhaps even the century, leaving a cosmic imprint in the sky for all to see.
A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.
Christopher Hitchens and I weren’t close friends—I was a lesser planet in his orbit. Every so often I felt the rhetorical lash of his published words on my back, and then I tried to make him feel mine, and you can guess who got the better of those exchanges. They usually had to do with Iraq. We both supported the war, but I supported it in an ambivalent, liberal way, while Christopher supported it in a heroic, revolutionary way. The more I saw of the war, the deeper my despair became. Christopher made it a point of honor never to call retreat.
I know of many friendships that ended in those years, including a few of mine. But something strange happened between Christopher and me. For every time he called me a split-the-difference bien-pensant, and for every time I called him a pseudo–Lord Byron, we seemed to become better friends. We would say rude things about each other in print, and then we’d exchange tentatively regretful emails without yielding an inch, and then we’d meet for a drink and the whole thing would go unmentioned, and somehow there was more warmth between us than before. Exchanging barbs was a way of bonding with Christopher.
The country is getting a high-profile lesson in the muddling of law and politics.
President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial has finally begun, complete with 100 senators who serve as both judges and jurors, several members of the House of Representatives who act as prosecutors, a defense team of lawyers, and presiding over the whole affair, the Supreme Court’s John Roberts. All of these people, except for the defense counsel and the chief justice, are politicians who have now either leaped or been forced into a judicial role. This highlights a dangerous characteristic of the impeachment process: It permits, and even invites, the injection of a massive amount of politics into what is, or at least should be, a judicial proceeding. Given that the politics of the past generation has been particularly vitriolic, impeachment thus presents a ripe opportunity for the political element to further weaken the rule of law.
The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.
On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm.
At the bottom of the hill, Dobson veers off the trail and stops in a shady clearing. This seems like a promising spot. She kicks away the dead oak leaves and tosses a square frame made of PVC pipe onto the damp earth. Then she unscrews a milk jug. It holds a pale yellow slurry of mustard powder and water that’s completely benign—unless you’re a worm.
While libraries have become central actors in the digitization of knowledge, archives have generally resisted this trend. They are still almost overwhelmingly paper. Traditionally, you’d go to a place like this and sit there, day after day, “turning every page,” as the master biographer Robert Caro put it. You might spend weeks, months, or, like Caro, years working through all the boxes, taking extensive notes and making some (relatively expensive) photocopies. Fewer and fewer people have the time, money, or patience to do that. (If they ever did.)
Five years ago, the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean. Officials on land know more about why than they dare to say.
1. The Disappearance
At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator.
They are racing to finish Trump’s Senate trial before new evidence of his wrongdoing can emerge.
Friday, as Democratic managers prepared their final day of impeachment arguments in the Senate, reports of a new recording began to emerge. According to the reports, Igor Fruman—a former associate of Rudy Giuliani who is now under federal indictment—recorded a conversation with President Donald Trump in April 2018, in which Trump said that he wanted the then–U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, fired.
“Get rid of her!” Trump reportedly says on the tape. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.”
What to make of the tape? We already knew that Trump had ordered the firing, though Yovanovitch wasn’t removed for another year. If genuine, the recording shows that Trump was lying about not knowing Lev Parnas, Fruman’s partner and fellow indictee; but then, that was clear all along. It also shows that the president has terrible judgment, since he is heard ordering the firing of an ambassador based on evidently faulty information from a shady character; but then, we had ample evidence of that, too. It shows that the president speaks like a Mafia goon, but that, too, was already well attested.
Some women Republicans are choosing to embrace Trump—but does Trumpism have a place for them?
When CNN’s Manu Raju asked Senator Martha McSally of Arizona whether she’d vote to “consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial,” the Republican, flanked by two staffers, barely looked up as she called Raju a “liberal hack.” She then repeated the insult theatrically. About an hour later, McSally registered the domain name LiberalHack.com and began the sale of “liberal hack” T-shirts. A short time after that, she was rewarded with an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show, where she said: “You know, these CNN reporters, many of them around the capital, they are so biased. They are so in cahoots with the Democrats, they so can’t stand the president, and they run around trying to chase Republicans and ask trapping questions. I’m a fighter pilot. I called it like it is.”