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.
America’s tidal wave of Omicron infections seems to have crested, but it’s still in a bad place. Even as coronavirus cases are beginning to tick down nationwide, so many Americans have tested positive for COVID since Christmas Day that they account for a quarter of all cases recorded in the United States. Thanks to the immunity America has—through shots and prior infections—most of these people came out of it largely unscathed. And they got an immunity bump too: We’ve long known that an infection with the coronavirus spurs the body to churn out more antibodies.
While public-health officials are still urging all Americans to be cautious with so much of the virus around, guidance for people who have already recovered from COVID this winter is sorely lacking. That has left Omicron survivors to deal with a confusing question: What now? I reached out to a handful of epidemiologists, and they all agreed that getting Omicron isn’t a golden ticket to normalcy. However, the immune boost from an Omicron infection can still be paired with other precautions to safely go about many activities. Keeping a few pandemic principles in mind can help make everyday decisions a little less fraught.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.
The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.
Robert Malone claims to have invented mRNA technology. Why is he trying so hard to undermine its use?
Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on August 23, 2021
Robert Malone—a medical doctor and an infectious-disease researcher—recently suggested that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines might actually make COVID-19 infections worse. He chuckled as he imagined Anthony Fauci announcing that the vaccination campaign was all a big mistake (“Oh darn, I was wrong!”) and would need to be abandoned. When he floated that nightmare scenario during a recent podcast interview with Steve Bannon, both men seemed almost delighted at the prospect of public-health officials and pharmaceutical companies getting their comeuppance. “This is a catastrophe,” Bannon declared, beaming at his guest. “You’re hearing it from an individual who invented the mRNA [vaccine] and has dedicated his life to vaccines. He’s the opposite of an anti-vaxxer.”
Some believe Putin has not only Ukraine, but the whole West, exactly where he wants it. A more balanced consideration is in order.
A terrible thing may be impending in Ukraine. Undoubtedly, subversion, sabotage, and murder await, although such miseries have been going on for some time without the West paying much attention. But a Russian onslaught, to include air and missile strikes followed by an invasion, would be a lot worse. Thousands of people may die, and the foundations of European security would be rocked as they have not been since the early days of the Cold War.
Even so, the degree of public hand-wringing and even despair in the United States is excessive, and not just in comparison with the relative phlegmatism of the Ukrainian population. The commentary on the Russian buildup and threats has taken many forms—pointless quarter-century-old recriminations about NATO expansion, foolish psychotherapeutic diagnoses of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s need for “respect,” assertions that the Biden administration’s weakness created this situation, and, above all, the belief that Putin has not only Ukraine, but the whole West, including the United States, exactly where he wants it. A more balanced consideration is in order.
Districts should rethink imposing on millions of children an intervention that provides little discernible benefit.
In the panicked spring of 2020, as health officials scrambled to keep communities safe, they recommended various restrictions and interventions, sometimes in the absence of rigorous science supporting them. That was understandable at the time. Now, however, two years into this pandemic, keeping unproven measures in place is no longer justifiable. Although no district is likely to roll back COVID policies in the middle of the Omicron surge, at the top of the list of policies we should rethink once the wave recedes is mandatory masks for kids at school.
The CDC guidance on school masking is far-reaching, recommending “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K–12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” In contrast, many countries—the U.K., Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and others—have not taken the U.S.’s approach, and instead follow World Health Organization guidelines, which recommend against masking children ages 5 and younger, because this age group is at low risk of illness, because masks are not “in the overall interest of the child,” and because many children are unable to wear masks properly. Even for children ages 6 to 11, the WHO does not routinelyrecommend masks, because of the “potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development.” The WHO also explicitly counsels against masking children during physical activities, including running and jumping at the playground, so as not to compromise breathing.
If nominated, Ketanji Brown Jackson wouldn’t necessarily change the Court’s balance. But she would make history.
Like an air-horn blast at summer camp, the news of 83-year-old United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s imminent retirement is calling Democrats to attention. For the first time since 2016, when then-President Barack Obama tried and failed to appoint Merrick Garland to the bench, a Democratic president has the chance to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court, and this time around, he will likely be successful. But who will President Joe Biden choose?
We know that his nominee will almost certainly be a woman. In 2020, then-candidate Biden vowed that he would respond to a Supreme Court opening by nominating a Black woman. Dozens of candidates are being talked about, but nearly all of the Court watchers I interviewed for this story have their money on one in particular: Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The new variant seems to be our quickest one yet. That makes it harder to catch with the tests we have.
It certainly might not seem like it given the pandemic mayhem we’ve had, but the original form of SARS-CoV-2 was a bit of a slowpoke. After infiltrating our bodies, the virus would typically brew forabout five or six daysbefore symptoms kicked in. In the many months since that now-defunct version of the virus emerged, new variants have arrived to speed the timeline up. Estimates for this exposure-to-symptom gap, called the incubation period, clocked in at about five days for Alpha and four days for Delta. Now word has it that the newest kid on the pandemic block, Omicron, may have ratcheted it down to as little asthree.
If that number holds, it’s probably bad news. These trimmed-down cook times are thought to play a major part in helping coronavirus variants spread: In all likelihood, the shorter the incubation period, the faster someone becomes contagious—and the quicker an outbreak spreads. A truncated incubation “makes a virus much, much, much harder to control,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me.
Since last summer, the conservative campaign against vaccination has claimed thousands of lives for no ethically justifiable purpose.
In the earlyphases of the pandemic, as the coronavirus spread in the United States and doctors and pharmacists and supermarket clerks continued to work and risk infection, some commentators made reference—metaphorical reference, fast and loose and over the top—to ritual human sacrifice. The immediate panicky focus on resuming business as usual in order to keep the stock market from crashing was the equivalent of “those who offered human sacrifices to Moloch,” according to the writer Kitanya Harrison. That first summer, as Republicans settled into their anti-testing, anti-lockdown, anti-mask, nothing-to-worry-about orthodoxy, Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, said it was “like a policy of mass human sacrifice.” The anthropology professor Shan-Estelle Brown and the researcher Zoe Pearson wrote that people who continued to do their jobs outside their homes were essentially victims of “involuntary human sacrifice, made to look voluntary.” Meanwhile, people on the right likewise compared the inconvenience of closing down public places to ritual sacrifice.
The Bowlin family knew they had a history of malformations in the brain. But they had no idea how far back it went.
Of the three Bowlin sisters, Margaret, the middle one, was the first to show signs. She began having seizures as a toddler. Then the eldest, Bettina, had a brief and mysterious episode of weakness in her right hand. In 1986, as an adult, she had a two-week migraine that got so bad, she couldn’t hold food in her mouth or money in her right hand. The youngest, Susan, felt fine, but her parents still took her for an exam in 1989, when she was 19. A brain scan found abnormal clusters of blood vessels that, as it turned out, were in her sisters’ brains too. These malformations in the brain can be silent. But they can also leak or, worse, burst without warning, causing the seizures, migraines, and strokelike symptoms Bettina and Margaret experienced. If the bleeding in the brain gets bad enough, it can be deadly.
The real prize in Ukraine is the end of American influence in Europe.
Vladimir Putin likes to say that playing chess with the United States is like playing against a pigeon: It struts around the board, knocks over the pieces, shits everywhere, and then declares victory. Playing chess with Europe, in contrast, must be like playing with a child who has forgotten the rules of the game, claims to have invented new ones, and then sulks when no one wants to play.
For so long, many people in Europe, including the U.K., have comforted themselves with platitudes that “hard power” no longer matters, that spheres of influence are outdated, and, even, that geopolitics itself has become somewhat passé. Then Russia sent 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. Suddenly playtime was over and once again the future security of Europe was being decided by someone else, somewhere else.