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.)
An astonishing number of students start college in America without finishing it: Roughly 40 percent of college enrollees don’t go on to get a degree within six years of starting to work toward one.
The good news is that in recent decades things have gotten a bit less bad. By one calculation, at four-year state schools that didn’t make the top 50 public universities in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, the graduation rate within six years rose from about 40 percent for students starting in the early 1990s to about 50 percent for students starting in the late 2000s. (The phenomenon was not limited to non-elite schools.)
When Jeff Denning, an economist at Brigham Young University, started looking closely at the data on college-completion rates, he was a bit perplexed by what, exactly, was driving this uptick. He and some of his BYU colleagues noticed that a range of indicators from those two decades pointed in the direction of lower, not higher, graduation rates: More historically underrepresented groups of students (who tend to have lower graduation rates) were enrolling, students appeared to be studying less and spending more time working outside of school, and student-to-faculty ratios weren’t decreasing. “We started thinking, What could possibly explain this increase?” Denning told me. “Because we were stuck with not being able to explain anything.”
No one has done more to dispel the myth of social mobility than Raj Chetty. But he has a plan to make equality of opportunity a reality.
Raj Chetty got his biggest break before his life began. His mother, Anbu, grew up in Tamil Nadu, a tropical state at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Anbu showed the greatest academic potential of her five siblings, but her future was constrained by custom. Although Anbu’s father encouraged her scholarly inclinations, there were no colleges in the area, and sending his daughter away for an education would have been unseemly.
But as Anbu approached the end of high school, a minor miracle redirected her life. A local tycoon, himself the father of a bright daughter, decided to open a women’s college, housed in his elegant residence. Anbu was admitted to the inaugural class of 30 young women, learning English in the spacious courtyard under a thatched roof and traveling in the early mornings by bus to a nearby college to run chemistry experiments or dissect frogs’ hearts before the men arrived.
President Trump’s attorney general had the first word on the Mueller investigation. It may end up being the final word.
Back in May, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan held a town hall to defend his position as the lone Republican calling for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Amash explained to voters that he’d arrived at this position after reading Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president. But for at least one voter, that explanation was more like revelation: As far as she was aware, Trump had been totally exonerated.
“I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn’t heard that before,” Cathy Garnaat, a Republican who supported Amash and Trump, told NBC that night. “I’ve mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn’t heard anything negative about that report, and President Trump has been exonerated.”
When, exactly, did the astronaut set foot on the moon? No one knows.
The Apollo 11 mission was, in most respects, a feat of extraordinary precision.
Traveling at a maximum velocity of about seven miles a second, the Saturn V rocket would have launched the crew far off course in the event of even a slight navigational error. From nearly 240,000 miles away, Houston’s Mission Control could track the spacecraft’s position to within 30 feet. The command module’s guidance computer kept time to the millisecond.
And yet for all that precision, no one can say with absolute certainty when, exactly, Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.
Most of the details of the moment are canonical: Armstrong took his one small step on July 20, 1969—50 years ago this past Saturday. The step took place just after 10:56 eastern time that night. And Armstrong bookended the step with the lines “Okay, I’m going to step off the [lunar module] now” and “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Or was it “one small step for a man,” as Armstrong insisted?) At some point during the roughly eight-second interval between those two lines, he became the first human being to walk on the moon. But when exactly he did so is less than clear.
Inside the mind of a psychologist who helps determine whether parents are “good enough” to keep their children
The Vermont lake was the perfect setting for a mother-daughter day. The mother packed water and towels. The daughter, an excitable young girl, shoved cheese sticks into a cooler. When the two arrived at the beach, they swung the cooler between them as they walked to the water.
But the mother’s smile was strained, because the day of family fun would be closely watched. Joining the pair was Sharon Lamb, a psychologist who evaluates parents and makes recommendations to family courts regarding whether their rights to their children should be terminated. The daughter had been in foster care for two years, and her mother was in danger of losing custody permanently. Lamb was there to help determine whether the mother could be considered fit to parent.
Hailed as a savant, lampooned as a fraud, Britain’s likely next prime minister must lead his country through its moment of maximum peril—and opportunity.
Late morning on Tuesday, July 23, the denouement in Boris Johnson’s lifelong quest for political power will be revealed, when the committee that has organized the Conservative Party’s leadership election will announce the winner of the race to replace Theresa May. The following day, the winner—Johnson is the heavy favorite—will be driven to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen, and be formally appointed prime minister.
It will be the culmination of seven weeks of national campaigning in which Johnson has slowly and cautiously closed in on the prize. Yet in reality it has been a 40-year pursuit, relentlessly driving forward, each step a mere prelude to the next on his seemingly unstoppable rise.
In order to fall asleep at night, I must run a gantlet of bedtime rituals. I must be marinating in overnight-skin-care products from head to toe. One (but only one) of my legs must be hooked around the side of my covers, poised to alert me to the presence of monsters. I must be lying on my stomach, with one arm folded under my head between me and my pillow. Not only must the air in the room be frigid, but it must be blowing directly on me.
Most people will probably cop to at least one idiosyncratic sleep habit. The presence of a fan is a common one. Some people are so attached to a particular pillow that they’ll haul it through the airport. Others are dead set on having their toes dangle off the mattress. Some adults still cuddle a stuffed animal. I started taking this inventory of bedtime peculiarities after someone asked whether I could explain why her face always had to be touching her childhood blanket at night.
What new research reveals about sexual predators, and why police fail to catch them
Robert Spada walked into the decrepit warehouse in Detroit and surveyed the chaos: Thousands of cardboard boxes and large plastic bags were piled haphazardly throughout the cavernous space. The air inside was hot and musty. Spada, an assistant prosecutor, saw that some of the windows were open, others broken, exposing the room to the summer heat. Above the boxes, birds glided in slow, swooping circles.
It was August 17, 2009, and this brick fortress of a building housed evidence that had been collected by the Detroit Police Department. Spada’s visit had been prompted by a question: Why were police sometimes unable to locate crucial evidence? The answer lay in the disarray before him.
To avoid the dreaded back-and-forth of coordinating hangouts, some friends are repurposing the shared digital calendar, a workplace staple, to plan their personal lives.
Earlier this year, I set out to make scheduling time with my friends more seamless—or as I, perhaps grandiosely, termed it, “to revolutionize my friend group.” Ten of my friends and I already had a group-text-message thread, which we used as our main form of communication, but even though we talked all day every day, sending one another dumb, meta jokes we saw online about group chats and checking in about who’d be at trivia that night, we still often struggled to plan hangouts. With so many schedules to coordinate, we felt like any impromptu event was missing a handful of people, and seeing one another in a big group setting become more and more rare.
Staying true to form—a love of organization is one of my defining characteristics—I created a shared Google Calendar. Everyone could mark when they would be out of town or otherwise occupied (denoted by an “OOO,” workplace parlance for “out of office”), as well as put down “holds” in advance for larger events (dinners, birthday parties, weekend trips). To my relief, my friends bought into the idea with only a little cajoling. “Check the G-cal” and “Put it on the G-cal” have become common refrains during our hangouts (even if those statements are sometimes sarcastic and come with an eye roll).
President Trump has instructed aides to prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House, five people briefed on the discussions said, a move that would dramatically reverse the big-spending approach he adopted during his first 30 months in office. Trump’s advisers say he will be better positioned to crack down on spending and shrink or eliminate certain agencies after next year, particularly if Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives.
If Trump is really contemplating large cuts in a second term, it’d be very strange. But the idea of a serious fiscal-conservative turn after 2020, no matter how unlikely, does raise a larger question: What exactly would be the point of a second Trump term?