Notion

I’ve always been prone to trying out new apps in the note-taking, information-herding, organizing, brain-storming, storing-and-finding space, not because I like shiny new things (I used to like shiny new things earlier, I don’t any more, I really don’t …), but because I’m always looking for that one thing that will magically “improve my flow”, help me write better, help me think better.

I had checked out Notion earlier, like I checked out a bunch of other things, but I think I didn’t give myself enough time with it, or perhaps I read too many reviews of what other people thought about it.

I tried it again recently, and I’m hooked. This is not just practically useful (in many, many, many ways), but also very satisfying in the sense of “I’m glad someone is doing this!”

As someone who’s also prone to wallowing in the “how did all the magic of the 60s and 70s come to this?”, I think this is a tool in the great tradition of Hypercard, of Xanadu, of Mindstorms, of the early intentions of Smalltalk, and of the legendary “mother of all demos” itself.

(As a minor aside, the only other such tool is Tinderbox, but that suffers to some extent from a lack of evangelism, and perhaps more from a lack of cross-platform-ness).

It’s not there yet (I understand the necessity of having an Electron app, but I’ll patiently sign up for the personal plan and wait a few years for the native app), but it has made its place as a tool to think.

(I expect I’ll have much more to say about this, over the next year)

Programming/Math/Science roundup: June 2018

 

Taken by Lunar Orbiter 1, in Aug 1966. That’s 1966 !

 

Somehow, a lot of interesting stuff this month:

Anyway, I know what it is to look at functionality and duplicate it elsewhere.  It CAN be done.  I am not saying it can’t.  What I’m saying is that it has not been done, and it’s a crying shame.  Few people even know there ever WAS a lisp machine, and those who do are mostly not rich enough personally to invest the time to duplicate what was there. Many people spent a big chunk of their lives investing in this dream and it didn’t pan out quite as we wish.  Ok.  Sometimes other events win out–not always  even for the right reasons. Or at least for the reasons you wish.  But don’t add insult to injury to say that the losers in battles such as these had nothing to offer.

Common Lisp beat out Interlisp, and maybe for good reasons but it doesn’t mean Interlisp had nothing to offer–some very good ideas got lost in the shuffle and I don’t pretend that Common Lisp just obviously had a better way.  Java is going to beat out Smalltalk perhaps, but that doesn’t mean Java is better than Smalltalk.  We owe it to the losers in these little
skirmishes to make sure that, if nothing else, the good ideas are not lost along with the framework.  And we do not accomplish that by defining that there was nothing lost. That’s both callous to those who worked hard on these other things and short-sighted to the future, which might one
day care about the things that got lost.

Continuing adventures in Tinderbox

Been using Tinderbox, in fits and starts, for a bit over a year now. I use it for all sorts of different stuff and the crazy bit is that I haven’t even scratched the surface,

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 9.19.11 PM
A sort of high-level daily work to-do pane .

 

I’ve used it for daily writing, for brainstorming, for just taking notes, and slowly but steadily trying on more of its feature set. The above shows an adornment for each day, with notes on them, and “task notes” outside, with todo/done states (based on a simple boolean done attribute), both of which are based on prototypes. The entire bunch is part of a composite within the main doc (yes, there’s a bit of vocabulary in the beginning).

The closest parallel I can think of, in a meta-sense, is Emacs — in the sense that it seems to have a huge learning curve and seems a bit useless at the outset, and unsophisticated, compared to a dozen other better-looking, niche tools.

And yet, both are completely programmable. You can define simple rules for the color of a note (as above, toggling between red and green based on a checkbox I added), or more complicated agents that gather notes based on arbitrary criteria.

It’s hard to even make a case for using it — though The Tinderbox Way is the closest I’ve found so far. I’d strongly recommend, on a day when you feel you have an especially open mind, to giving the free trial a try out.

 

 

Programming/Math/Science roundup: May 2018

Can you imagine paying $4900 for a calculator? In 1968 money??

Programming/Math/Science roundup: April 2018

Programming/Math/Science roundup: March 2018

 

Jupiter’s north pole: eight cyclones around a central cyclone.

 

Interesting stuff from last month (not a lot?):

  • Entanglement isn’t just across space, but across time too(!)
  • There is a new type of ice, occurring in the inclusions of diamonds formed hundreds of miles inside the earth’s mantle, with a cubic instead of hexagonal structure.
  • Some viruses are big, a thousand times bigger than the smallest ones, and can even synthesize proteins (very much like cellular organisms)
  • As the title says, five git concepts explained the hard way (worth reading even if you know git!)
  • The deepness of Jupiter is only now coming into study, with its octagonally arranged polar cyclones (the pic above) and its varied layers of clouds stretching up for thousands of kilometers (!)
  • It’s easy to forget even the very recent past; a look at how far Yahoo fell from the top of the world, twenty years ago.
  • I hate all the “free” games that make you pay for everything with in-game purchases; I knew some people paid hundreds of dollars for these, but here’s someone who’s happy to have spent over $70K on in-game characters!

On personal technology

I’ve slowly standardized on a few apps I use all the time; I was talking to someone about this and realized it might be generally useful to someone else (if nothing else, to save a few years of looking around).

I still check out new apps from time to time, but I almost never feel like anything else offers something that I’m missing.

Going back five to ten years, there were always things I wanted to do and tried various tools over time to fill that need, but couldn’t find anything that really stuck, so I’m quite happy that I found tools that have become invaluable over the last two years.

Journaling: Day One

I journal all the time, every day, and can’t imagine ever going back. The way I use this is a bit like “a Facebook account for myself” (yes, I’m not active on Facebook). It’s on my laptop, and on my phone, so there’s never an excuse for not doing it.

It’s a simple concept, but a really good idea. I often find myself wondering, when I write my “end of day entry” what exactly I did that day, so just forcing myself to recollect gives me a better sense of how I spent my time.

What really made a bigger difference was adding a weekly, monthly and even quarterly journalling period, but that can wait for later; just writing something down at all makes a huge difference!

Dumping ground: DevonThink (Pro)

This is something that you need but just don’t know you need 🙂

Finding stuff is hard. In the beginning I tried saving stuff in email, sending myself an attachment. Then I tried putting everything in Drive, or Dropbox. Then I tried making a nice file “hierarchy” to organize stuff.

This isn’t special stuff I’m talking about, just average everyday stuff. Letters, records, passwords, screenshots, scans, notes, that sort of stuff.

You can survive without a tool for this, but being able to instantly look up what you need, and instantly capture new stuff for later, is a whole another experience.

(In case you’re curious, I did use Evernote for this in the past, but I’ll have to talk separately about why it wasn’t good enough for me. Yes, I even tried the paid subscription.)

Task manager: OmniFocus

I have trouble remembering stuff. I know I’m not alone in this, but I have a worse time of it than most.

I started with plain old Reminders, ended up at Wunderlist (which was almost good enough). In the middle I even tried Trello (and Asana) but that was just not my use case at all.

Again, nothing special, just normal stuff: working on taxes, getting a picture framed, getting a car wash. Some things you need to do are routine things and things, others are “mini-projects”, some things can be done this week, some have to be postponed, some can be done at home, some need a shopping trip … and you don’t want to see one big bag of everything either, you want to see little bits of the whole picture at at time — Omnifocus helps me do all of this.

Finally, yes, I know Things exists, it’s cool, but I’ve seen screenshots of the OmniFocus version coming out later this year and it looks quite promising. Still, if you use nothing right now, just pick any one of the two.

Other stuff

I wanted to stick to a “top three list” here, but there are other apps I use too. There are also past alternatives that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite work out, and it might be worth mentioning them all later.

But just as a “basic starter kit”, these three are invaluable. I spent years figuring out the right mix for me, and my life would be miserable without these tools to rely on.