I'll spare you my whole speech about the inklings of another at-least-mini golden age of Interesting Software, especially though not only for the Mac. I consider Scrivener the single most useful writing program I've ever come across; I'm fascinated by Tinderbox and TheBrain; I have come to trust and rely on both Evernote and DevonThink; and so on. Last year Scrivener's creator, Keith Blount, served a stint as guest-blogger in this space, as did the creator of Tinderbox and a co-creator of TheBrain.
I'll spare you that speech (and you can see links to some past articles about Scrivener here) so as to get right to the new program I want to mention. It is called Scapple; it is from Literature and Latte, the small English company that produces Scrivener; it's still in open beta; and it is so easy to use and understand that you can very quickly grasp what it might and might not do for you. Here are two drawings that illustrate the pre-computer function that this program is meant to replicate, and its Scapple-ized equivalent.
An explanation of the program is here; it includes the link to download the beta version, which I'm not giving you directly because I think it's worth reading the background. This same page also leads to a very large number of messages from beta-version users discussing Scapple's ups and downs. I like this program a lot and think Mac users will find it worth a try.
Meanwhile, if you do any writing of longer-than-blog-post scale, seriously: check out Scrivener. That is all for now. NO I HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN that updates are due on Atlas Shrugged guy; Foxconn pics; Jobim; the filibuster; and much more.
I don't know anything about Jack Baty, listed as "Director of Unspecified Services" at his eponymous site. Mascot photo from his site at right; I have no idea whether that's actually him. But I think we have some things in common, based on his recent post about the main problem has had with software for organizing info, tasks, and other digital junk. As Baty puts it, emphasis added:
Keeping track of All the Things(™) isn't that difficult. Or at least it shouldn't be, but I find it nearly impossible.
The problem for me isn't a lack of software, it's the abundance of great software. Here is a list of software I've used to keep track of all the digital detritus in my life:
... and he goes on to list nearly a dozen programs, most of which I've used -- along with many others! He doesn't even get into such timeless classics as Lotus Agenda, the still-evolving Zoot, TheBrain, MindManager, OmniFocus, Scapple, Thinking Rock, and .... Wisest not to get me started.
In practical terms, what Baty says is where I've also ended up:
Tinderbox is my notebook. Evernote is my junk drawer. DEVONthink is my filing cabinet.
He goes on to explain what those analogies mean. For the record, Tinderbox and DEVONthink are Mac-only; Evernote is trans-platform; plucky Zoot is Window-only; and Lotus Agenda runs on DOS! Of course, stay on the lookout for whatever David Allen and Intentional Software are cooking up.
For decades now it's been a careful balance, between the time I "save" through new "productive" software, and the time I "waste" trying out each new release. I am somehow relieved to know that I'm not the only one contemplating this balance.
I won't try to explain this but will just suggest that you give it a try. It's Search Visualizer, a web-based system that processes search results from Google and other search engines and displays them in visual form. Here's an idea of how the results look, based on a sample search for data about the 787 Dreamliner's battery problems.
I've tried a variety of "search front-ends" over the years and so far have always ended up going back to plain old Google. I don't know whether Search Visualizer would meet the long-term usefulness test, but its approach is interesting. The company lays out scenarios in which it thinks such visualization would pay off. Over to you to see whether in your search circumstances it makes sense.
As the years wear on, my esteem grows for the writing program Scrivener as the single best bargain ever offered in the software world. And I mean: ever. It was originally for the Mac but now comes in a Windows version; it costs all of $45; and it is a program that seems ideally tailored for the way that many writers, including me, would like to approach their work. You can see its (quite impressive) list of testimonials here; read a detailed description of its power from a U Chicago student, Noah Ennis, here; and consider some previous discussion here and here. I've now written two books, two or three dozen Atlantic articles, and many other reports and presentations with Scrivener. I was pleased that its creator, Keith Blount of Cornwall, England, appeared in this space as a guest blogger two years ago.
There is a new entry in the lineup from Literature and Latte, Blount's little software company. It is called Scapple, and I mentioned it earlier, during its beta period, here. It costs all of $15 (technically $14.99), and if you have any interest in software or idea-sketching, and if you are using a Mac, you would be crazy not to try it out. I'm using it right now for a big forthcoming project.
1) Scrivener Guide. Over the years, and most recently here, I have extolled the virtues of Scrivener as a major step forward in computerized writing tools. I'm grateful to my friend MG in the United Arab Emirates who has alerted me to a detailed, useful, very well-illustrated online guide to advanced fluency with Scrivener that is available free here.
The guide is by Nicole Dionisio, it's part of the MakeUseOf series, you can download it as a 14MB PDF file, or you can read it on line. In whatever incarnation, it's highly interesting and valuable. Here's how it shows one of Scrivener's advanced features -- setting word-count goals for different chapters or sections of a writing project.
I don't use this when writing articles with Scrivener, but I have when writing books. Among other things, it helps in setting the daily output targets that are crucial to maintaining sanity through the months-long slog of finishing a protracted writing project.
Here's an illustration of another surprisingly useful tool: subtle but immediately recognizable variations in shading to let you compare various revisions in a piece of writing.
And -- why not? -- here is one more: a name generator. It's a feature that is meant for novelists and that I don't use but which indicates some of the elegant ingenuity of the program.
I have used Scrivener for years but still learned things from this guide. It is particularly useful in clarifying that Scrivener does not aspire to replace the functions of a normal word processor. Indeed, the last step you take before printing out or emailing a document from Scrivener is to export it to Word, for final formatting and spell-checking. Instead its features address the strategic aspects of writing books, academic papers, or long articles: how to keep your research material close at hand, how to organize your arguments, how to keep track of revisions and pentimenti. Check it out.
2) Google survival rate. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was wary of Google Keep, an embryonic Evernote competitor, because Google had killed off so many similar interesting-seeming products in the previous months.
The author of the Gwern.net site replies as follows:
I think you may be overly skittish here. I collected data on 350 Google things and ran some statistics on it all.
Results: Only ~1/3 of Google products have ever been killed, and in particular, the 5-year survival estimate for Keep produced by my final model is ~60%, which seems like a pretty reasonable risk to take if the product is useful, and especially given that you correctly point
> 1) Google has often orphaned services, but it has never "disappeared" data. (I am using "to disappear" in the transitive-verb sense familiar from Latin American politics.) It has been a leader in making sure you could make your own copies, or extract, any of your info that was in its part of the cloud.
The loss of Reader is a serious blow to many people including myself, but let's not go overboard and damn Google for worse than it deserves.
The study at the Gwern site is quite a tour de force. I won't attempt to summarize it but will just say, if you're interested in statistical analyses, you will find this interesting. I hope it's right about Keep, but for now Evernote does the job for me.
It's been a while since the latest update on this front, so here is a quick mention of developments in two programs I've followed over the years.
1) "Getting Started With Tinderbox." For the past few years, my go-to workhorse program for data organizing/software-for-thinking has been the Mac-only program Tinderbox, from Eastgate Systems in Watertown, Massachusetts. (My program for writing, as I can't mention often enough, is the absolutely unparalleled Scrivener, from Literature and Latte software in Cornwall, England.) I still love the idea-organizing program Zoot, which I first wrote about in this magazine back in the mid-1990s. But Zoot is Windows-only, and since I made the switch to the Mac world six years ago, fleeing the nightmare that was Windows Vista, I've mainly had to admire Zoot from afar.
In an age of ubiquitous free apps, Tinderbox can seem pricey. It's $249 for initial purchase and updates for a year, and then $98 a year for ongoing updated releases. The new releases are frequent and valuable (as are those that Zoot's creator, Tom Davis, keeps issuing for his program). But if you don't care about them you can use the original program as long as you want. Tinderbox's creator, Mark Bernstein, has justified his business approach as part of a new wave of "artisanal software" or Neo-Victorian computing. You pay more for craft beer than for the cheapest swill; you may choose to pay more for organic food than the very cheapest source of calories. So too with certain kinds of software.
The way I think about it is this: $98 a year is much less than I'd pay for one standard day of business travel, and this program's value to me through every day of the year is greater than what I gain on the standard day on the road. Judge for yourself, but I've found the investment very much worthwhile.
The real obstacle to wider adoption of Tinderbox has been the difficulty in getting started with the program. If someone hands you a sledgehammer, you have an idea of what you might do with it. But the first time you're handed a pencil, you have no idea of the million possibilities it opens up. To help potential users over this hurdler, Bernstein has created a carefully annotated step-by-step guide, available as a PDF for download here. Worth checking out.
2) Jerry Michalski's Brain. For years I've also loved the innovative, multi-platform program TheBrain, from TheBrain software in Los Angeles. I wrote about it in the New York Times 10 years ago, and then in the Atlanticin 2009 and 2012. It has various free or very low-cost versions; the full-strength desktop edition, for Mac or Windows, starts at $219.
The very most ambitious and creative user of TheBrain has long been the tech-world figure Jerry Michalski. He has been chronicling his life and thoughts via this software for 18 years now and has posted his results on the web. Now he's created an iOS app, called JerrysBrain. He sends some notes about what he's doing:
My Brain has been openly available on the Web for many years and will remain so, at JerrysBrain.com. Now a Jerry's Brain app is available for iOS and costs a buck. Here's the direct link to it in the app store.
It's easy for me to create permalinks to specific thoughts in my online Brain, though not to the iOS app. Here are a few useful and interesting direct links:
I started this Brain in December 1997. It has over 257K thoughts, all put in by hand. I just ran the numbers and it's a span of 6300 days, or 40 thoughts a day.
The top insight from 17+ years of using TheBrain is that we're an amnesic society. We have little context or memory available. A huge causal force is the business model of the media businesses, which historically needed us to watch the ads scattered in the content, so it kept the content from us.
For further exploration, here's a screenshot from Jerry's Brain and then three posts and screencasts from Jerry Michalski on how and why he works this way:
Early post with 8-min screencast introduction to my Brain, the best intro
Post for anyone wanting to dive deeper, after a 30-min talk I gave at the Personal Digital Archiving conference.
Most recent post, pointing to the newly available Jerry's Brain app.
For the record, I have no relationship with any of the companies here except as a (full-freight) paying customer. In that capacity I say: Check them out!
Over the years, including in a number of posts collected on this Thread page, I’ve talked about some of the “artisanal” Mac-based programs I’ve used in my daily work since I made the PC->Mac switch eight years ago. The two I rely on most heavily are the writing program Scrivener, and the info-organizing program Tinderbox. (Plus, of course, TextExpander, which is on whenever my computer is.)
The hardest of these to explain is Tinderbox, because its very open-endedness means you can use it for almost anything — but you have to know something about it to start imagining what it might do. (“What could you use a pencil for? Well, you could make a list...”) Thus the more specific illustrations, the better. At his Welcome to Sherwood blog, Steve Zeoli has provided an ongoing set of examples and explanations.
Two more today. One is from the French philosopher Dominique Renauld. He has just posted this trippy video — narrated in his charming Gallic English, subtitled in his native French, scored with atmospheric music presumably from his previous career as a DJ — about one way he uses the program for research notes.
The other is from the painter and writer Howard Oakley of the Isle of Wight, on his Eclectic Light Company site. He has a new three-part series called “Making First Impressions,” about using Tinderbox and its sibling program StorySpace in preparing notes for an arts discussion. The series starts here. Below you’ll see a sample illustration.
Over the eons, starting with a word processing program called The Electric Pencil back in the late 1970s, I’ve mentioned software I’ve found interesting in a more-than-utilitarian way. You’ll see several previous installments collected in the thread on this page. Today, quick updates on two programs I use all the time and mention frequently, and that continue to evolve:
Tinderbox, an all-purpose organizing, note-taking, info-visualizing program that I’ve relied on in all sorts of ways over the past seven or eight years.
To say that a program is “all-purpose” is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in the open-endedness of applications. It’s precisely because I don’t know the exact way in which you’d use a pencil—or a bicycle, or a working knowledge of algebra or of HTML—that those tools are useful. It’s a curse in the challenge of explaining the specific thing you might use the tool for.
For me, the Tinderbox program has been useful in storing notes for books, articles, and blog posts; for laying out the plans for articles or speeches; for keeping track of tasks (actually doing them is another matter); and for other sorts of info. It is the current title-holder of the “tool for thinking” championship that was held by Lotus Agenda when I used DOS, and which I wrote about in the Atlantic nearly 25 years ago; by Zoot when I used Windows, which I wrote about in the Atlantic 20 years ago; and by various others like Actioneer (for the Palm Pilot) and Sidekick and GrandView and Magellan and Chandler down through history’s churn. I turned to Tinderbox when I entered the Mac world, and it has held the title ever since.
This is all as prelude for saying: The program is pricey but is on sale now for $50 off. You can read an interesting entry by Alex Strick on how he used it in his PhD research, and another here; see a video by Dominique Renauld on how he uses it to take notes; and see a list of explanatory posts by Stephen Zeoli on the program’s possibilities. Tinderbox is not for everyone, but I find it surprisingly useful. (It is Mac-only.)
Scrivener, a program from the small Literature and Latte software house in Cornwall, England, that is beyond all question and comparison the most useful software for writing that has ever been invented. You can see some previous posts to that effect here and a recent enthusiastic review (not by me) here.
The news about Scrivener is that a very powerful iOS version has appeared, which is so effective and convenient that it is, gasp, actually usable as a working and writing environment. Stephen Zeoli mentions it here; and the Literature and Latte blog, by the program’s creator, Keith Blount, and others, is here.
That is all. Happy Labor Day.
(For the record: I have no relationship with either of these companies except as a full-fare paying customer.)
Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity.
There’s no place like home—unless you’re Elon Musk. A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is, according to Musk, likely to launch soon, possibly within the coming days. But what motivates Musk? Why bother with Mars? A video clip from an interview Musk gave in 2019 seems to sum up Musk’s vision—and everything that’s wrong with it.
In the video, Musk is seen reading a passage from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. The book, published in 1994, was Sagan’s response to the famous image of Earth as a tiny speck of light floating in a sunbeam—a shot he’d begged NASA to have the Voyager 1 spacecraft take in 1990 as it sailed into space, 3.7 billion miles from Earth. Sagan believed that if we had a photo of ourselves from this distance, it would forever alter our perspective of our place in the cosmos.
After saying a racial slur and being exiled from radio, Morgan Wallen has become only more popular. What’s going on?
It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest artists in American music right now is a disgrace. Three weeks after the 27-year-old country singer Morgan Wallen said a racial slur on camera, his second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. His singles have been bobbing in the country-music top 10 and the cross-genre Hot 100. Billboard’s ranking of the most popular artists in the United States had him in the top spot for five straight weeks. Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos—putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable.
The Danish series John Dillermand makes a very big deal about a very big body part.
The world of Danish children’s television is not for the prudish. Kids who turn on the tube in Denmark might be greeted by gratuitous flatulence, cursing, casual nudity, or cross-dressing puppets. One show centers on a pipe-smoking pirate who wallops ninjas and flirts with Satanism. In another, an audience of 11-to-13-year-olds asks probing questions about the bodies of adults who disrobe before them. As Christian Groes, an anthropologist at Denmark’s Roskilde University, told me, Danish children’s television is not unlike an LSD trip: “Everything is possible in that universe,” he said, loosely quoting a friend, “and people won’t complain about it.”
But people did complain when the Danes debuted a kids’ animated series in January featuring a protagonist with an absurdly long, prehensile penis.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
We’ll never know for sure how contagious people are after they’re vaccinated, but we do know how they should act.
Every day, more than 1 million American deltoids are being loaded with a vaccine. The ensuing immune response has proved to be extremely effective—essentially perfect—at preventing severe cases of COVID-19. And now, with yet another highly effective vaccine on the verge of approval, that pace should further accelerate in the weeks to come.
This is creating a legion of people who no longer need to fear getting sick, and are desperate to return to “normal” life. Yet the messaging on whether they might still carry and spread the disease—and thus whether it’s really safe for them to resume their unmasked, un-distanced lives—has been oblique. Anthony Fauci said last week on CNN that “it is conceivable, maybe likely,” that vaccinated people can get infected with the coronavirus and then spread it to someone else, and that more will be known about this likelihood “in some time, as we do some follow-up studies.” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky had been no more definitive on Meet the Press a few days before, where she told the host, “We don’t have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you’re asking.”
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
At some point—maybe even soon—the emergency phase of the pandemic will end. But what, exactly, is that magic threshold?
In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “beating COVID-19.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.
Getting a heat pump is one of the easiest ways for homeowners to fight climate change.
If you’re like me, you know that getting rid of your car is one of the best things you can do for the climate, and also that you will never do it. This is a car-oriented country, and a car-oriented time. But in 2019, the private cars and light trucks that ordinary people drive for work and shopping and leisure were responsible for about 15 percent of U.S. fossil-fuel-energy use. Electric vehicles get a lot of press, but less than 1 percent of energy used for transportation came from electricity. Personal transportation is a large contributor to carbon emissions in America; it’s also the hardest to give up.
But trading a gasoline automobile for an electric one (or for a bus or train) isn’t the only way ordinary citizens can contribute to fossil-fuel reduction. Decarbonization has two pillars: First, generate electricity from energy that does not emit carbon—renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal instead of fossil fuels. That requires legislative and regulatory change. Second, use electricity to run as much of your personal life as possible.
It’s a moment we don’t often see in sports: a woman beating a man. But that’s exactly what was announced Thursday, when the World Surf League reported that the Brazilian big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira set a new world record. The 73.5-foot wave she surfed on February 11 in Nazaré, Portugal, was the largest wave surfed by anyone this year, earning Gabeira the WSL’s 2020 women’s XXL Biggest Wave Award. It also broke her own previous record, a 68-foot wave. By contrast, this year’s men’s XXL Biggest Wave Award winner, Kai Lenny, rode a 70-foot wave.
But Gabeira’s historic win was light on fanfare, with the news hampered by an uncharacteristically long delay (about four weeks after the men’s announcement), and also because her achievement was subject to a brand-new and completely different set of measuring criteria than was required for the men’s waves. The situation highlights a rare and missed opportunity to challenge widespread ideas about women’s athletic inferiority.