A different approach to Note Taking

I take a lot of notes. I use them for reference. I use them for speculation about topics of interest. I use them to note down ideas so that I don’t loose them.

Before the digital age I had many paper notebooks and boxes full of index cards.

In those days I used to carry a HP 200-LX computer in my pocket and I thought it was an ideal note taking solution, oh if only I could buy one again, oh the nostalgia …

Whilst I was doing my degree I used to take notes at lectures on paper despite having several digital solutions available. I found that writing on paper helped me recall the material that I was writing much better than if I typed it onto a computer.

The physical act of writing is more visceral, it connects with the consciousness at a more basic level than typing. When typing one can go into autopilot and concentrate on the sequence of letters rather than the meaning of the words, the material gets typed accurately but it leaves little lasting impression in the memory.

But computer solutions are better organised and more compact. If one relies on paper then one accumulates many scraps of paper and old notebooks which are difficult to keep organised or refer to.

What I am looking for it the best of both worlds.  A paper notebook with unlimited pages which can transfer it’s content onto a computer, without many scraps of paper to keep track of, and hopefully without the paper.

Trees generate oxygen for our planet, we should not chop them down to be made into newspapers or chipboard furniture or paper notebooks.

For a long time I have relied on an application called ConnectedText which has served me well for a long time. It is a wiki with many powerful features, but recently I have found it to be less satisfactory than it used to be.

This is because I bought a new laptop and monitor with very high resolution screens.

The advent of high DPI screens and Windows 10 screen scaling has meant that the icons on ConnectedText are now microscopic and the titles of topics are only partially displayed.

The development of ConnectedText has now ceased and so it will probably never be updated and will continue to fall further behind as operating systems change until finally one day some update will break it.

This is particularly annoying for me because some while ago I paid quite a lot of money for perpetual licenses, the developer sold me licenses which would be for life, if there were any new versions of the software I would get an update to my license so I would get the new version for free.

He probably already knew that version 6 would be the last one and I already had a license to version 6.

If the developer has abandoned development it would be better if he were to release the source code as an open source project but I suspect he is keeping it going just to get a little more money from the current version.

I cannot now recommend ConnectedText for anyone wanting a new notetaking solution.

Perhaps it is time for some lateral thinking.

It would be nice if one could have digital paper, a screen on which one could write and draw but which could send these images to a computer and/or recognise the handwriting. Like a paper notebook with unlimited pages, no more stray scraps of paper to keep track of.

There are several possibilities.

One could use an Android tablet.

In my experience handwriting on an Android (a Sony Xperia mobile phone) is awful, the line drops out at random and the screen is slick, there is no friction and this tends to make my handwriting more messy. Also the note taking apps I have tried are cumbersome and awkward to use.

An Android device can also act as an e-reader for PDF and text files.

Despite this Android is not a good solution.

Dr Andus recommends a Boogie board.

I have tried a Boogie board and writing on the screen is much better and it is more responsive than an Android phone. However the Boogie board is not a very good solution for other reasons.

It is a write only solution, this is not what I want.

Once you have written a page or drawn a diagram, once you move onto a new page you can never go back to the previous page. The device stores them but it cannot display them. You can upload the stored pages onto a computer and this is the only way to see one of your previous pages.

The Boogie board is cheap but it is not a solution to the problem.

There is another device by Sharp, the WG-N20 which seems more capable than the Boogie board. It is an electronic notepad. You can look at and edit any stored page, sounds good, but there are problems.

The first big shock you get when buying one is the hidden costs. This is a Japanese import and so the price you see on the Amazon website is not the price you end up paying.

On the Amazon website it boasts free shipping to the UK but the UK Customs and Excise will open your package and impose an import duty on it. The shipping company will then demand this import duty plus an ‘administration charge’ before it will release your parcel for delivery.

The price you end up paying is about one and a half times the advertised price.

The manuals are in Japanese. So is all the text displayed by the machine, on the on screen buttons and in the dialog boxes.

The screen is slick and has little friction but despite that it has a better writing experience than an Android phone or tablet. The screen contrast is not very good, you are writing on a grey screen with slightly darker grey. This tablet needs good lighting to be able to use it adequately and there is no backlight.

The screen is a conventional LCD screen not e-paper. It is not an e-reader, it cannot import or display text files or PDFs.

It is not a good solution.

I have even been into the local Apple store to try out an Apple iPad.

I didn’t get along with it very well, the iPad suffers from a frictionless slick screen and the note taking application seemed to have some fundamental flaws. The iPads are expensive for what you get.

The staff in the Apple store are so full of artificial enthusiasm, everything about their products is wonderful and the fact that the annotations can be in any colour you like more than compensates for the fact that if you insert text the annotations don’t move with the text and are now in the wrong place.

I didn’t agree with the sales person!

I would rather have something in black and white that works properly than something multi coloured that doesn’t.

A random search (a clutching at straws exercise) pointed me at a potentially good solution for note taking which is the reMarkable tablet, but it is not available yet and it is expensive. If the advertising on the website is to be believed then they are trying to produce something which seems to fit almost exactly with what I want.

It is an e-reader, it can display PDF files (and e-pub files but I have no e-pub files), it cannot display plain text files which I think is a bad decision on the part of the designers.

There are an awful lot of legacy text files out there. But to be fair the text files could be printed to PDF files but this will increase their size.

Which brings us to the question of storage. The reMarkable tablet has 8 GB for storing documents and notes and drawings. This may seem like a lot but it’s only 100,000 pages. I can envisage filling that, maybe not very quickly but it is possible that I might be able to fill it up. There is no expansion, no SD card slot and the USB socket seems to be only for charging.

Once the storage is full you will have to either delete something or transfer something to a computer to make room for new items.

It is also big, just a little less than A4 size, 18 cm by 26 cm (7 inches by 10 inches). This is good for reading but definitely not pocket sized. What is needed is a small version which I could put in my pocket, 5 inches by 7 inches would be ideal, I wouldn’t use this as an e-reader just as a notepad.

Although it is not ideal it is far better than any other solution I have yet discovered so I ordered one. At the moment (in June 2017) there is a 33% discount on pre orders but I will have to wait five months, current delivery schedule is October but that keeps going up because demand is greater than their production rate.

If they had a pocket sized version then I would probably be ordering both the big and small versions, especially if they could transfer notes and documents between them.

I will write a review of it when I get it.





Some thoughts on Terrorism.

Why would anyone deliberately target children?

It is a particularly despicable act to detonate a bomb where you know people will be harmed but it’s even worse when the majority of those in the area are children.

But the act of terror committed in Manchester Arena was meant to cause the maximum horror and outrage amongst ordinary people, that was the whole point of it.  It was meant to provoke a reaction.

There is a vicious circle here which must be broken if we are to have peace, but I can see no way to break it.

It goes like this.

Acts of terror are meant to provoke a reaction.  When some idiot in Syria makes the demand that America should cease all hostilities in the Middle East or they are going to behead an aid worker or journalist they do not expect their demands to be met, in fact it would be very disruptive for them if America did meet their demands.  They don’t want their demands met.  The demand is just there to give them an excuse to commit a horrific act.

The reaction to these horrific acts is the whole point, that is why they do them, to provoke a reaction.

The purpose of the acts is to provoke a military response so they can portray themselves as being in a legitimate military struggle with the forces of western democracy (or Christianity depending on which set of propaganda you read).

When western political leaders say that they are at war with IS or Daesh they give them legitimacy, when they carry out air strikes against Daesh (IS, ISIS, ISIL or whatever) in Syria or Iraq they give them legitimacy, which is what Daesh want.  Daesh want the Jihadi cause to be seen as legitimate by Muslim communities both in the Middle East and here in Europe and Great Britain.  Donald Trump with his stupid ill thought out verbal attacks and his travel ban has been great for Daesh recruitment.

Western political leaders are playing to the crowd, their response is meant for their home audience, with one eye on the next election they feel that they must be seen to be doing something, but this is exactly what the Daesh terrorists want.

Daesh recruit young men (almost always young men) to blow themselves up or drive a truck along a crowded pavement to further the cause of global Jihad, but what does it achieve ?  Nothing except a lot of pain and misery.  The young men they recruit are as much the victims as the people they slaughter.  They have been tricked into killing themselves by perfidious promises of rewards in heaven after they die.  Living in paradise with a number of virgins at their disposal (the number varies), but this is not what is written in the Quran which promises a reward beyond man’s comprehension without actually saying what it is.  The virgins are just Daesh’s misogynistic interpretation of these ambiguous verses.

The acts of random terror in Europe or Great Britain are designed to cause alienation of the Islamic communities.  To drive wedges between people and between communities, to cause suspicion and doubt.  From their point of view it would be even better if there is a backlash against Muslims after the atrocity in Manchester.

Alienation leads to radicalisation, not of the many but of a few vulnerable individuals who are susceptible to the message of the radicals, people who are seeking certainty in their lives.  People who feel that they have no future, people who have lost hope, these are the ones who are most vulnerable to the brain washing of radical Islam.  The radical message promises them that a certainty but it is a specious message.

Global Jihad uses the Internet as the main method for communication and ideological advancement. Western media feeds on the events terrorists create.  Daesh understands this and have become more sophisticated in the way they carry out their recruiting activities and targeting.

And so there are more recruits to the cause and they commit acts of terror both here in the west and in the Middle East and this provokes a reaction and so the whole bloody cycle repeats over and over again.




Patently Obvious

Patents are useless and stifle innovation.  The only people who benefit from patents are patent lawyers and big companies with lots of money.

Some people think that when you take out a patent it somehow protects your idea from being copied by other people or companies.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All you get when you take out a patent is a piece of paper which says that you have the right to sue anyone using your idea without your permission.

The cost of actually defending a patent is enormous.  What this means is that big business and those with lots of money can use the patent system to their advantage against small startup companies and individuals who don’t have the money to defend their patent.

In effect this means that big business can ignore patents on any ideas they use that are held by small companies or individuals knowing that they can afford to bankrupt the other party if legal action is taken against them even if they are in the wrong.

A company would rather pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to their legal department to break your patent than pay you a few hundreds or thousands of pounds in royalties.  Patents which are not owned by the company are something to be ignored or worked around or broken in court.

And then there is the issue of Patent Trolls.  Companies with lots of money who accumulate ownership of lots of patents with no intention of ever developing them into useful products, instead they wait until someone else develops the idea and then sue them.

I work for the NHS in a research department.

A few years ago we had an idea to help clinicians in Accident & Emergency with a problem they have fairly regularly.  When the patients airways are blocked it may be necessary to insert a breathing tube, if it is necessary then you only have a short time to get the tube inserted correctly before the patient becomes starved of oxygen.  What this means is that you have to get it right first time because you only get one chance.

The problem is that the throat splits into two tubes, the oesophagus which leads to the stomach and the trachea which goes to the lungs.  The breathing tube has to go down the trachea or the patient suffocates, but the anatomy is arranged so that things naturally go down the oesophagus so it is quite difficult to get the tube in correctly and takes a fair amount of skill on the part of the clinician or paramedic.

The idea we had was for a tube which fits inside a standard breathing tube, an inner tube with a small video camera and LED light mounted in the end with wires which could be pulled to angle or guide the end of the tube.  The clinician can actually see what they are doing.  When the tube is correctly positioned you pull out the inner tube leaving the breathing tube inserted correctly.  Video cameras are now small enough to make this possible.

We had this developed to the stage of a working prototype.  A small battery powered plastic box with an LCD screen and a tube which was waterproof which could be inserted into a standard breathing tube.

But there was a problem, the idea had already been patented.  A firm of lawyers in America had a patent on this idea (and a lot of other ideas) so the lawyers for our NHS trust decided that this project could not be developed because of the fear of legal action by the American law firm.

I wouldn’t mind but the law firm in America are just patent trolls, their intention is to patent many ideas and then when someone develops something which uses one of their ideas they will leap out from under the bridge and present them with a writ.  They have no intention of ever developing this idea, even if they did they have neither the expertise or the facilities to do so.

So patents actually stifle innovation.  This device could have been saving lives in British hospitals by now but instead it will not be developed because a firm of lawyers in America want to make a lot of money out of it someday.


The misnomer of ‘Software as a Service’

There is a type of deception which takes place where something is renamed to obscure what it is and to leave behind any negative connotations of it’s original name.

Like the Conservatives slowly privatising the health service but calling it outsourcing so that people don’t realise the health service is being privatised.

Another example of this deception is ‘Software as a Service’ which should really be called ‘Software Rental’, the people who push this idea don’t like the name ‘Software Rental’ because they would like to obscure the fact that you are renting software so they call it something that doesn’t sound as bad.

Let us call it what it actually is, Software Rental!

I can see why software developers like rental software because it provides them with a continuous revenue stream so they are pushing the idea but I have yet to hear any convincing arguments as to why it is good for the customers.  For the customers it is a continuous revenue drain.

The software companies claim that it is better because the customers get continuous updates to the software, but if the software worked properly in the first place it wouldn’t need fixing, and the continuous tweaks to the way things work and to how things look for the sake of novelty are just annoying and unnecessary.

There are two models for ‘Software Rental’ one of them is the model adopted by The Brain Technologies (TheBrain) where if you stop paying the rent then you are left with the version of the software you had when you stopped paying but it still works, but there are no updates.

This is not as bad as the other model adopted by Microsoft (Microsoft Office 365) where if you stop paying the software stops working altogether.  If you have a lot of data and documents produced by these programs then it is as if the company are holding your data hostage against your continuing payments.  This model is very bad.

The problem is that ‘Software as a Service’ may come to be seen as the norm in the software industry, this would be very bad for the users.

I hope this does not happen but I suspect a lot of people in the software industry might use the fact that Microsoft are using this model as justification to use it themselves.


More bullets for ISIS

There are a lot of problems in Syria and Iraq at the moment mainly caused by despotic dictators trying to impose their political views on everyone in their country and religious fanatics brandishing their worn out collections of old fairy tales and wanting to impose their religious views on everyone in the world.

It seems to me that any government which has the capability to manufacture it’s own ammunition would be able to cause problems for terrorist organisations like ISIS.

They could produce ammunition which looked exactly like normal ammunition but had a little something extra.

I’m sure it would be possible for them to infiltrate a batch of this ‘special’ ammunition into the supply chain and eventually ‘let them’ accidentally fall into the hands of ISIS or whichever bunch of idiots are causing the problems.

A cartridge (colloquially called a bullet) consists of the actual metal bullet attached to a shell casing full of gunpowder or cordite.  There isn’t a lot of difference between modern powder and the gunpowder which was used a hundred years ago.

This charge of low explosive burns very quickly but doesn’t actually explode, it creates a high pressure gas behind the bullet which propels it down the barrel and out of the gun.

If one were to replace this low explosive with high explosive but kept the look and weight of the cartridge the same then it would explode with much more force and damage the gun and possibly injure the person firing it.

But that would be too extreme. the person firing the gun would realise very quickly that their ammunition had been tampered with as would the group they were in.  They would probably stop using that particular batch of ammunition very quickly once they had identified the problem.

But if one were to put only a small amount of high explosive in just one in ten or one in a hundred of the cartridges then it could damage the chamber without being immediately obvious.  The terrorists who got the batch of altered ammo would have their guns wear out very quickly and they would start to misfire and jam.

If it were done very subtly then they might not even realise that anything was wrong.  They would just think that their guns were wearing out.  But if they did realise and retaliated against some of the scumbag arms dealers who are willing to sell ammunition to these idiots then that’s OK as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know … maybe governments are already doing something like this.

Would we ever know?


Grammar Schools and Public Schools

Grammar Schools

So, the government has decided to bring back grammar schools.

The question which should be asked here and isn’t being asked as far as I can tell is ‘How will this be funded?’ are taxes going to be raised, no I don’t think so.

What is most likely to happen is that other local schools will have their budgets cut.

Who benefits from grammar schools?

The wealthy benefit to a much greater extent than those who are not so well off.  It is promoted by the government as a meritocracy where talented children can be helped to flourish whatever their background, but that is not what happens in practice.

What happens around existing grammar schools is that more well off parents get private tutors for their children to give them an advantage in the tests. So the intake is skewed in favour of the rich with a small proportion of children from less well off families who got in because they were exceptionally talented.

But this benefits the grammar school because these children are very easy to teach because of their innate talent and the school can point to them ans say yes we do take in children from poorer families.

Grammar schools are divisive for society, they will not benefit working class people, instead they will benefit middle class families who have enough money to afford private tutors for their children.

Grammar schools will not raise the oveall standards, they will polarise the education system by raising their own standards at the expense of other schools in the area.

The way to raise overall standards is to have a diverse mix of children from all backgrounds in a school.

Public Schools

It seems ridiculous to me that public schools get charitable status.  They are a bastion of elitism in British society offering very expensive courses to educate the children of rich families. There is no way that these institutions should qualify for charitable status!

The very flimsy justification for them getting charitable status is that they occasionally take in exceptionally talented children from poorer backgrounds and give them a free education.

Firstly they don’t do this for very many children, secondly they also benefit in the same way that grammar schools do.  The children have to be very talented to get in and this raises the overall standards for the school.

But the main reason is that it gives them the excuse to get charitable status and this is the main reason they do it, charitable status gives them huge financial advantages.

In my opinion public schools should have their charitable status removed (all of them) because it is not justified.

But nothing will be done.

A great many people with power in the government and in the civil service were educated in public schools and so nothing will be done about this.

As long as the establishment is full of public school alumni it will continue to be a bastion of privilige and elitism in British society.


Is the NHS safe in Conservative hands?

It seems to me that the Conservatives are trying to break the NHS by driving it into debt and reducing the workforce whilst privatising it gradually by the back door with as little publicity as possible.

Of course they don’t want to be seen to be destroying the health service because that would be politically unpopular.  But it is difficult to break the NHS without people realising what you’re doing.

The first thing they did was to decimate community health care and council services.  The people served by these services didn’t go away or stop requiring treatment therefore the burden of treating these people was dumped on the NHS causing already overstretched services to be swamped and budgets to become overspent.

Now Mr Hunt is trying to impose a contract on the junior doctors which will designate weekends as normal working days.  The modest pay increase included in the new contract will be more than offset by the reduction in overtime payments under the new contract, so it’s actually a pay cut.

But for the junior doctors it is not about pay, it is about the drive to fully staffed operation of NHS hospitals seven days a week with no extra staff and no extra funding.  And Mr Hunt says that he isn’t trying to make doctors work longer hours, errr ….  something doesn’t seem to add up there.

The drive to implement a seven day NHS is based on flawed statistics which misrepresent the real situation.  The NHS already works seven days a week.  Routine clinics and services are only run during the week but all the departments and services which are needed are staffed during the weekend.

The much quoted statistic about you being more likely to die if admitted at the weekend than if admitted during the week is deliberately misleading.  Many people are admitted during the week for a variety of reasons, most of which are the result of routine hospital visits.  However the routine services are not run at weekends so if you are admitted at the weekend it is more likely to be the result of an emergency.

People who are admitted as the result of an emergency visit are likely to have more serious problems than those admitted as a result of a routine visit and I would suggest that this is more likely to be the cause of the difference in outcome rather than any deficiency in the care at the weekend.

So why are the Conservatives and in particular Mr Hunt trying to break the NHS?

Is there perhaps some hidden agenda at work here?

Well in 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book, ‘Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party‘.  If we look at the chapter on health we see that the author said on page 78 – “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain”.

I have read a copy of the book although I cannot post any more than a brief excerpt here due to copyright concerns.  It used to be widely available on the web but is disappearing fast as copies available on websites are mysteriously vanishing.  However it is still available in some places.

This book which was co-authored by Jeremy Hunt advocates the de-nationalisation of the NHS and the introduction of an American style insurance scheme were patients pay into their individual pots and decide how to spend it.  This gives grave cause for concern given that Jeremy Hunt is now in charge of the NHS.

Having a seven day NHS is not possible without adequate resources and staff, but if the real reason you’re doing it is in order to break the NHS so you can introduce privatisation as a remedy then it makes perfect sense!