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.
The surprisingly short life of new electronic devices
Updated on March 22 at 9:06 p.m. ET.
Two years ago, Desmond Hughes heard so many of his favorite podcasters extolling AirPods, Apple’s tiny, futuristic $170 wireless headphones, that he decided they were worth the splurge. He quickly became a convert.
Hughes is still listening to podcasters talk about their AirPods, but now they’re complaining. The battery can no longer hold a charge, they say, rendering them functionally useless. Apple bloggers agree: “AirPods are starting to show their age for early adopters,” Zac Hall, an editor at 9to5Mac, wrote in a post in January, detailing how he frequently hears a low-battery warning in his AirPods now. Earlier this month, Apple Insider tested a pair of AirPods purchased in 2016 against a pair from 2018, and found that the older pair died after two hours and 16 minutes. “That’s less than half the stated battery life for a new pair,” the writer William Gallagher concluded.
In hindsight, there were plenty of indications over the past decade that American politics were headed toward the partisan sniping and low-stakes media obsessions that crowd the news cycle today. Take Arugulagate. In 2007, Barack Obama was in Iowa, speaking as a presidential hopeful to a group of farmers who were worried about the stagnation of their crop prices while America’s grocery bills continued to rise.
In his speech, Obama referred to the inflated cost of arugula at Whole Foods, which was a small gaffe: Iowa didn’t have a Whole Foods, and the leafy vegetable wasn’t then familiar enough to be name-checked in a broad point about American grocery costs. But political media turned arugula into its own news cycle, with conservatives charging Obama with elitism. Around the same time, lattes were also being slandered. It was a big moment for food as proof of one’s true ability to govern.
Our birth-control methods failed, and we can’t afford a second child financially or career-wise.
My wife and I recently discovered she's about six weeks pregnant. This is devastating news for both of us. We have a 17-month-old daughter and we planned on having only one child. The birth control we had been using failed. I tried to have a vasectomy nine months ago and my wife objected at the doctor's office without citing reasons. She said she would get an IUD instead, but she was unable to get the IUD, because doctors had to remove a fibroid first. She learned about the pregnancy at the doctor's office during a consult on removing the fibroid.
Since hearing the news, I have been honest with her about my feelings. I reminded her that we simply cannot afford a second child and we can kiss our joint career aspirations goodbye if we have another baby. She agrees with me. More important, I said our marriage will be over in the sense that we will just be co-parents rather than lovers because I will resent her, and the baby will always be a reminder of my career sacrifice and our indebtedness.
The scandal is how much corruption it exposed—and how much turns out to have been perfectly legal.
So much about the rise of Donald Trump defied reason. But in the spring of 2016, he displayed one habit that I found beyond perplexing: He couldn’t stop praising Vladimir Putin. What made his obsequiousness so galling was that it often came in response to questions that warranted moral disdain: What about the assassination of journalists critical of the Russian government? Are you bothered by the invasion of Crimea? Whereas most of Trump’s policy positions shifted over the course of the campaign, his apologetics for Putin were a rare source of constancy.
As Trump raced to the Republican nomination, I began to search for ulterior explanations for Trump’s adoration of Putin—and the fact that his campaign served as a magnet for so many advisers and consultants with ties to Russian interests. On July 4, 2016, I published a piece in Slate pointing to Putin’s pattern of intervening on behalf of candidates hostile to the Western alliance, and arguing that we were seeing the same sort of interference unfolding in the United States. And I spent much of the next three years trying to understand the nature of that interference.
Half of the electorate is likely to reject Attorney General William Barr’s decision on obstruction.
The justice system cannot please everyone, but it at least aims to provide some sort of closure. That’s why one of the least satisfying outcomes of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the election, as summarized by Attorney General William Barr, is its approach to the question of whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
Though this message was delivered in a very different way, it is reminiscent not of Watergate or any of the other past presidential standards that have become common analogues, but instead of former FBI Director James Comey’s 2016 recommendation that Hillary Clinton not be charged with a crime in connection with her use of a personal email server while secretary of state. In both cases, Justice Department officials found evidence both for and against a crime. In both cases, they determined that prosecuting a case wasn’t tenable. And in both cases, the outcome is likely to enrage nearly half of the American electorate, splitting the country rather than providing a reconciliation.
The unusual situation facing Robert Mueller does not justify a repeal of well-established traditions of confidentiality.
As the nation awaits the Mueller report, a return to first principles is in order. One relevant first principle was dramatically illustrated in the breach during the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Then–FBI Director James Comey announced at a press conference that no criminal charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton. Comey didn’t stop there, however. In that press conference, which will continue to live in infamy, Comey sharply criticized the former secretary of state for her ill-considered conduct in housing a server in her private residence, only to receive official and—not infrequently—classified information.
The nation should have risen, as one, in righteous indignation in the aftermath of the Comey press conference. In a single misadventure, Comey both seized power that was not his—the power to seek an indictment, a prerogative that was entrusted to the attorney general—and then violated one of the fundamental principles of public prosecution: Thou shalt not drag a subject or target of the investigation through the mud via public criticism. Prosecutors either seek an indictment, or remain quiet.
A former Jehovah's Witness is using stolen documents to expose allegations that the religion has kept hidden for decades.
Updated at 3:34 p.m. ET on March 25, 2019.
In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse?—and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.
The attorney general’s letter will do little to bridge the partisan divide.
We cannot yet see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted to Attorney General William Barr on Friday. But we can see its shadow in the four-page letter Barr sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sunday afternoon. The letter will be touted as vindication by President Donald Trump and his supporters, but will do little to bridge the partisan divide over Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, and will inspire more vociferous demands to release the entire report.
Barr’s letter thoroughly quelled some of the fondest hopes of the anti-Trump “resistance.” The letter revealed that Mueller closed his investigation without recommending more criminal charges, and that no further indictments are under seal, as some had speculated. That’s a great relief for Trump and his family and associates, but it’s not the end of their federal criminal jeopardy. Barr also pointed out that Mueller “referred several matters to other offices for further action.” For instance, the special counsel sent the investigation of Michael Cohen’s hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which secured Cohen’s guilty plea for federal campaign-finance violations. That office is still actively investigating the matter—we know this because it carefully redacted the details of the investigation when it released the Cohen search warrants last week. But the special counsel’s investigation was the most prominent legal threat to the president and his family, and its closure without further indictments is a major victory for him.
Between 1965 and 1969, more than a million American soldiers served in combat in Vietnam. One can argue that they should never have been sent there, but no one would argue that, once committed to battle, they should have been given inferior equipment. Yet that is what happened. During those years, in which more than 40,000 American soldiers were killed by hostile fire and more than 250,000 wounded, American troops in Vietnam were equipped with a rifle that their superiors knew would fail when put to the test.
The rifle was known as the M-16; it was a replacement for the M-14, a heavier weapon, which was the previous standard. The M-16, was a brilliant technical success in its early models, but was perverted by bureaucratic pressures into a weapon that betrayed its users in Vietnam. By the middle of 1967, when the M-16 had been in combat for about a year and a half, a sufficient number of soldiers had written to their parents about their unreliable equipment and a sufficient number of parents had sent those letters to their congressmen to attract the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, which formed an investigating subcommittee. The subcommittee, headed by Representative Ichord, a Democrat from Missouri, conducted a lengthy inquiry into the origins of the M-16 problem. Much of the credit for the hearings belongs to the committee’s counsel, Earl J. Morgan. The hearing record, nearly 600 pages long, is a forgotten document, which received modest press attention at the time and calls up only dim recollections now. Yet it is a pure portrayal of the banality of evil.
Newsmakers, pundits, and hustlers banked their future on the investigation taking down the president. The jig is up.
In a letter to Congress on Sunday, Attorney General William Barr declared that while Robert Mueller’s report found evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and did not exonerate President Donald Trump, it also did “not conclude that the president committed a crime.” And so the special counsel’s months-long investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia ended with an inconclusive conclusion: No smoking gun would result in Trump’s hasty removal from office.
Not just Democratic lawmakers had been banking on a final blow to the Trump administration. Pundits, commentators, and opportunistic entrepreneurs had all held up Mueller as a hero for their cause—and, in the process, constructed a cottage industry of Mueller-pegged media content and accessories.