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.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
A Democratic tsunami in the midterms engulfed the state Trump won most narrowly in 2016—and could keep the state blue in 2020.
DETROIT—Gretchen Whitmer had her red water bottle with the Wonder Woman logo. Debbie Stabenow was touching up her makeup. Dana Nessel was up front, sitting with her wife, right behind the stack of boxed salads that was the food for the day.
The top of the Democratic ticket in Michigan—candidates for governor, Senate, and attorney general—were rolling along to the 77th and final stop of a statewide bus tour, hours before polls closed on Election Day. When the dust settled on 2016, no one would have been counting on any of them to be in contention, let alone win.
But with the way things were going now, two years later, they felt like singing. “We need a Democratic fight song we can all agree on,” Whitmer said.
In The Last Unicorn, there are no maps, invented languages, or epic battles. But the 1968 tale has a timely message about the importance of reality over magic.
I encountered the cover of Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel The Last Unicorn years before I read the book. On the front of the Ballantine paperback edition that once sat on my parents’ shelf, there’s a white unicorn running in a forest as a small red sun sets behind the mountains. Where was this majestic creature going? I wondered.
It’s now been 50 years since the novel’s publication, and the unicorn’s journey still captures the minds and hearts of readers. This week marks the release of The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey, a commemorative edition of Beagle’s first draft of the novel. The book’s early popularity was no doubt fueled by the Tolkien boom; J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings found legions of fans in the United States after it appeared in a paperback edition in 1965. But The Last Unicorn has since come into its own. In 1982, the novel was made into an animated film, which has become something of a cult classic. A novelette sequel that Beagle published in 2005 won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards—the fantasy genre’s two highest honors. After all these years, The Last Unicorn still feels relevant. It’s not an epic fantasy, but a softer tale at the boundaries of magic and reality, that place where one grapples with what it means to be human.
The backlash against the incoming congresswoman’s “very nice” outfit is both tedious and predictable.
Earlier this week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet: At congressional events, she shared (the representative-elect of New York’s 14th Congressional District is currently in Washington for a series of orientations on the workings of the House), she keeps being mistaken for an intern. Or sometimes for the spouse of the person who must be the true new member of Congress. Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman who is also a woman of color who is also a democratic socialist—a politician who won her election, earlier this month, with 78 percent of her district’s vote—keeps getting told that she doesn’t quite belong in Congress. Her tweet sharing that experience was punctuated by a face-palm emoji. It went viral.
The Bay Area chef believes that great food can be both beautiful and accessible. Her new Netflix series, based on her celebrated cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, might just help her deliver that message.
The first day we met, Samin Nosrat improved my cooking for maybe the 100th time. I’d been employing Nosrat’s approach to cooking in my own kitchen for more than a year, each small tweak and lesson learned its own miracle. But last month, Nosrat intervened directly (and perhaps unknowingly).
At the market she chose as our meeting place, downtown Brooklyn’s Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable, the Berkeley-based chef and educator giddily pointed out a number of produce gems. One of them—fresh bay leaves—ended up finding its way into the soup I made that evening. A spicy medley of andouille sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes, black-eyed peas, and Tuscan kale, my soup would’ve been tasty without the addition. But the bay leaves, quietly fragrant and almost minty in their essence, balanced out the richness of the broth. Suddenly, it sang.
California’s Camp Fire is still not contained, and the number of dead is still rising.
Seventy-six people are dead. At least 1,276 are missing. And more than 7 million have been confined to their homes, as a cloud of toxic, corrosive ash darkens their windows and creeps under their doors.
The Camp Fire—which is still burning across some 232 square miles of Northern California—now ranks among the worst natural disasters to hit the United States this century. Only a handful of hurricanes and a “super outbreak” of tornadoes in 2011 have killed more Americans. This fire has robbed more Californians of their lives than has any earthquake since 1933.
It came like an ocean of flame. At 6:33 a.m. on Thursday, November 8, someone called 911 about a fire in the woods on Camp Creek Road. (The road would lend the fire its bitterly ironic name.) When firefighters arrived 10 minutes later, they noted the parched conditions and the harsh, hot wind. “This has got the potential for a major incident,” one said over the radio.
In this year’s elections, many voters in previously red America supported candidates across racial, socioeconomic, and cultural lines.
Nearly every day, Americans are given fresh reasons to be horrified by Donald Trump. The president’s tweets are written to exacerbate social divisions, and his policy agenda is designed more to score political points than to solve actual problems. But beneath progressive outrage sits a deep unease, fueled by a gnawing question: How could America have elected both Barack Obama and a man so prone to race-baiting, tribalism, and transparent dishonesty?
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that America is coming apart at the seams, split not only by race but also along socioeconomic, educational, and cultural lines. But in ways that would have seemed improbable if not impossible just a few short years ago, voters in what had been red America chose in this year’s midterms to support candidates across those various divides.
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
The writer Stewart Brand once wrote that “science is the only news.” While news headlines are dominated by politics, the economy, and gossip, it’s science and technology that underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization. This is reflected in an extraordinary growth in public investment in science. Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before:
On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?
Steve Carell played the Amazon CEO as an anti-Trump crusader in one of the show’s more baffling sketches.
Satire is difficult in the Trump era. The president himself can be a tough target to exaggerate, given his outsize personality and the total media obsession with all of his mannerisms, which is why it’s unsurprising that Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump has barely appeared on Saturday Night Live this season. In his absence (which might also be due to Baldwin’s current trouble with the law), the show has cast around for other topical targets, some more obvious than others. Last night’s episode led with SNL’s most frequent villain of late: Fox News. But a slightly more dispiriting follow-up identified a curious hero for the show’s anti-Trump bent: the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The Fox News sketch was a repeat of a favorite from two weeks prior, a parody of The Ingraham Angle with Kate McKinnon as Laura Ingraham and Cecily Strong as Jeanine Pirro, the sonorous host of Justice With Judge Jeanine. The pair ran through some of the week’s news—hysteria about midterm-election voter fraud, the California wildfires, and an interview with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (Leslie Jones) about her potential challenge to Nancy Pelosi.
Peter Navarro—a business-school professor, a get-rich guru, a former Peace Corps member, and a former Democrat—is among the most important generals in Trump’s trade war.
“No one’s more careful about what they buy,” Peter Navarro told me recently. The director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy was explaining that he reads labels closely and avoids products made in China. “People need to be mindful of the high cost of low prices,” he said. In Navarro’s telling, those cheap flip-flops are supporting an authoritarian state, and that cut-rate washing machine might be mortgaging America’s future.
Such wariness of foreign goods is not just one man’s consumer preference—it’s United States policy. In the past year, the Trump administration has embarked on a trade war with sweeping geopolitical aims: The entire government now has a mandate, if a murky one, to make China play by the rules—and also to slow its rise. Trump has slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods imported from the People’s Republic. And China is not the only front in the war. To aid American businesses and stop other countries from growing at America’s expense, the administration has renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement and initiated bilateral talks with the European Union, Japan, and other allies.