OK in the short term ?

“… and that is what is behind the abrupt rise in climate change denial among hardcore Conservatives: they have come to understand that as soon as they admit climate change is real, they will loose the central ideological battle of our time – whether we need to plan and manage our societies to reflect our goals and values, or whether that task can be left to the magic of the market.”

Naomi Klein

When I was young I used to think of 2020 as being the future, that was when everything would be different, we would have lots of cool technologies, we would have colonies on the moon, I used to think of all sorts of possibilities.

Now 2020 is just a year away and most of the things I dreamt of have not come to pass, except that we have the Internet and powerful computers.  Things are different but not in ways I envisaged, and most things are the same.

My children don’t see 2020 as being the future in that sense they see the future as being more like 2100.

But I wonder what will 2100 be like, will our children see us as having looked after the planet and handed it on in a better state than we received it in ?

I doubt it.

How often can we truly say we are thinking about the well-being of future generations ?

How often do we consider the impact of our decisions as they ripple down the decades and centuries ahead ?

I think the problem is that ‘Now‘ demands attention much more forcefully than the future, we are living in comfort at the moment and most of the demands of the future would require us to give up some of that immediate comfort to do something about a problem which we see as still being a long way away.

The timeframe over which we think of things is getting smaller and smaller so the perceived urgency of future problems is diminished by comparison.

It is easy to concentrate on the ‘now’, because it commands so much more attention than the future.  It is getting more and more difficult to look beyond our immediate problems.  Today’s news, the latest fashions, the newest technologies.  Politicians are only concerned with what happens up to the next election, anything beyond that is irrelevant to them as it might not be their problem anyway.  Businesses concentrate on ‘maximising shareholder value’ to maximise their share price in the short term, for them the timeframe they worry about is the next quarter.  On the Internet the timeframe of interest is minutes, and on the financial markets it’s about sixty milliseconds.

No wonder that in the Twitter fuelled politics of 2019 most people in society are not concentrating on the big problems which threaten the continued existence of the human race, like Climate Change.  They are not seen as immediate threats, that’s something for the future.

Some politicians even choose to deny the evidence on climate change and continue with business as usual and there are many reasons why they would do this.

In my opinion this ‘short termism’ is probably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.  But what if we could be altruistic enough to care about people we will probably never live to see ?

The ability to have complex abstract thoughts about non existent scenarios is what sets us apart from most animals.  To imagine scenarios which do not exist and may never exist and to be able to plan how to bring these scenarios about or to avoid bringing them about is a vital adaptation which has led to the phenomenal success of humans as a species.

We can imagine what we want to do tomorrow or next week or next year, where we would like go on holiday, what job we would like, and we can imagine alternative versions of these scenarios, and we can evaluate each of them in terms of their likelihood and desirability.

We have the innate ability to imagine the consequences of our actions in the long term, but sadly not always the will or the motivation to escape our immediate desires.

Despite our mental faculty to look and plan ahead, we have a weakness in our thinking called ‘present bias’, which favours short-term payoffs over long-term rewards.

For example, people are more likely to accept an offer of £100 today, rather than a guarantee of £120 in a week or to smoke cigarettes despite a shortened life or to spend on pleasures and not save for a rainy day.

If we are so likely to neglect the our own future wellbeing, it’s even harder to muster empathy for future generations.

There is nowhere this is more apparent than in the world of politics and economics.

Politics and economics are inextricably linked especially in the politics of free market capitalism.

There is a fallacy at the heart of economics and that is that there must always be growth.  Free market capitalism has tied us to having economies which must grow in order to survive.

I think it was David Attenborough who once said that “to believe in never ending growth you must either be insane or be an economist“.

So why are capitalist economies so obsessed with growth ?

GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, it is a figure which represents the total cost of goods and services traded in an economy in a year.  It was invented in the 1930s, but it very soon became the overriding goal of policymaking, so much so that even today, in the richest of countries, governments think that the solution to all their economic problems lies in more growth.

In 1960 this thinking was codified in a book by W.W. Rostow called “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto.”

In his book Rostow tells us that all economies need to pass through five stages of growth: first, traditional society, where a nation’s output is limited by its technology, its institutions and mindset; but then the preconditions for take-off, where we get the beginnings of a banking industry, the mechanisation of work and the belief that growth is necessary for something beyond itself; then we get take-off, where compound interest is built into the economy’s institutions and growth becomes the normal condition; fourth is the drive to maturity where you can have any industry you want, no matter your natural resource base; and the fifth and final stage, the age of high-mass consumption where people can buy all the consumer goods they want.

Well, you can hear the implicit airplane metaphor in his story, but this plane is like no other, because it can never be allowed to land.  Rostow left us flying into the sunset of mass consumerism, and he knew it.  As he wrote, “And then the question beyond, where history offers us only fragments.  What to do when the increase in real income itself loses its charm?”  He asked that question, but he never answered it.

So here we are, flying into the sunset of mass consumerism over half a century on, with economies that have come to demand infinite unending growth, because we’re financially, socially and politically dependent upon it.

We’re financially dependent on growth, because today’s financial system is designed to pursue the highest rate of monetary return, putting publicly traded companies under constant pressure to deliver growing sales, growing market share and growing profits, and because banks create money as debt bearing interest, which must be repaid with more money.  Therefore those companies which incur extra cost because they take care of the environment will be out competed by those who don’t.

We are socially addicted to growth, because thanks to a century of consumer propaganda we have become convinced that we transform ourselves every time we buy something new.  The real purpose of advertising is to make you dissatisfied with the things you presently have in order to persuade you to go out and buy something new to replace it.

And we are politically dependent on growth because politicians want to raise tax revenue without raising taxes and a growing GDP seems a sure way to do that.  They don’t want to inflict any tax rises to pay for long term threats because they are always looking towards the next election.

This is why politics is so shackled to the short term view, they are always looking towards the next election.  It goes something like this; “If it is a threat which is beyond the next election then it might be someone else’s problem if we don’t get re-elected so why worry about it, paying for it now just lessens the chances of our re-election and if the other lot get elected then this problem becomes something we can use against them“.

Future political threats are evaluated with something called ‘Discounting’.

Discounting is standard practice in politics all over the world.

Imagine a politician who is facing a difficult decision, there is a future problem which is known and well documented and they are trying to decide whether or not to spend large sums of money to mitigate the problem.  In the future this will have looked like money well spent perhaps saving many lives and billions of pounds.  It will certainly be of benefit to the grandchildren of the politician.  On the other hand spending all that money now will cause immediate problems for the taxpayers who will see little or no immediate benefit to themselves.

So the politician turns to an economist for a cost benefit analysis and they feed the numbers into the economists spreadsheet.  The economist points out that something called a ‘discount rate’ can be applied to these far future benefits.

A social discount rate is a technique that economists and politicians use in their cost-benefit analyses to decide whether to make investments with a long-term impact.  It weighs the benefits for future people against costs borne in the present-day, and proposes that the calculated value of benefit to society in the future is worth less to society in the present depending on how far into the future these benefits occur.  For example, if you’re deciding whether to spend a lot of money to boost the economy in the future, it’ll tell you that a 10% boost in economic growth in 2 years is worth a lot more in the present than a 10% boost 20 years from now.

The underlying assumption (fallacy) of economics is that economies must continuously grow and therefore it is assumed that future generations will be richer and more able to bear the costs of future problems.  But there is another reason why discount rates are used, on average individuals are not very willing to give up comfort and/or income today for a putative benefit at some time in the future for people who don’t even exist yet.  The society as a whole reflects the views of it’s individual members so politicians, and the societies they govern, have a limit to how much cost they are collectively willing to bear for the benefit of future generations.

So the politician turns to the economist and the economist runs the numbers in their spreadsheet and they realise that dealing with the problems now might not show enough payback for decades or possibly even centuries, so the proposals fail their cost-benefit analysis. The politician will leave it to their successors to deal with the problem.

Most people would accept that there is a need to bear some costs to avoid future climate catastrophe, but how much?  If we continue to postpone action the cost of dealing with the problem continues to rise and this makes it even more likely to be postponed next time the decision comes up.  If we leave it until urgent action is required then it will be too late and we will not be able to deal with the problem.

Ask yourself what portion of your own income today would you be willing to give up for the benefit of future generations?  When economists and politicians are debating this question, they are essentially arguing over how big a discount rate to apply.

If you apply discount rates over long time periods then the importance of the benefits felt by future generations in these calculations eventually dwindles towards zero.

But there is another way of looking at the problem of discounting future harms.  If we turn to philosophy we can see that discounting the needs of our descendants is akin to burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.  If a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today or tomorrow, then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on the glass a century from now.  But ethically, there is no difference between the two.  The child stepping on the glass in one hundred years time feels just as much pain and suffers just as much harm.

So we must ask ourselves is it ethically defensible to do nothing about climate change ?

So, ask yourself what portion of your own income today would you be willing to give up for the benefit of future generations ?  Make yourself heard, write to the politician who represents you and make them aware that something needs to be done now.

Our world is dying of consumption.  Consume less and recycle more.  Fix things that are broken rather than replacing them.

Have less children.

Join a green movement.

Ignore adverts!

If one person does this it won’t make much difference.  If everyone does this it will make a difference.

The time to act is now!

Mapping and Outlining, finding a path.

If you have a large collection of notes then there will be times when you cannot find the note which you want to find even though you know that it exists somewhere within the collection of documents.  This is a problem which has existed for as long as there have been collections of documents.  Over the years librarians have come up with many tools for dealing with this problem and many of these tools have been adapted for the digital era.  Things like references (links), indexes (tags) and categories have been used in computer programs to ease the location of information.

The art of a good note taking program is providing facilities for the user to be able to locate an item within their notes even though they have forgotten almost everything about it.

So how can you locate an item of information?  It is all in the metadata, the information about information.  If you have a large corpus of notes without any metadata then they might as well be written in a foreign language for all the good they will be to you.  It is worth the time and effort to add a relevant metadata to a note as you create it whilst it is still fresh in your mind.  These are the clues which will lead you back to this note in the future.  Think of it as having a conversation with your future self.  Think of how you would locate this note if you didn’t know where it was, what tags would you search for?  What would you expect it to be linked to?  What might you search for?  Make sure that the terms you might search for appear in the text, if not then include them as a list at the end of the note.

Metadata comes in many forms, not just the obvious ones.

One form of metadata which is often overlooked but always relied upon is location, people navigate to where they last saw the item they are looking for.  This is especially useful as it requires less verbal attention and more visual attention, people do it without thinking about it and whilst concentrating on something else which is why it is so often overlooked.

Search is often portrayed as the most useful way of finding things but in my experience it is not used as often as the other methods.  Search is less well used than it would be because it involves a break in concentration.  If you are in the middle of composing a document or trying to find understanding of some difficult problem then you have to stop concentrating on the problem at hand and think about search terms.  In my experience this break in concentration is obtrusive.

Search can be made easier by the use of tags, particularly if the tagging system is hierarchical and has inheritance.  Selecting from a list is easier, quicker and less prone to errors than typing search terms.  In my opinion InfoQube has the best hierarchical tagging system of any program available at the time of writing, closely followed by ConnectedText.  Try to choose tags which distinguish items rather than tags which just describe it’s characteristics.

Links from one note to another are very important.  The act of linking from one note to another is arguably the most important aspect of note taking and it should be as quick and easy as possible.  ConnectedText is unrivalled in this area.  One can insert a link by just putting the [[Page Name]] in square brackets which is much less of a break in concentration whilst you are composing a document.  ConnectedText can also automatically convert the names of other pages which occur in a note into links and it can also show which pages link to the current page (backlinks).

Another form of metadata used to locate things is the favourites list.

One form of metadata which has been touted as being new with the digital age is mapping, mind maps and concept maps.  However I think that these are not as useful as they are made out to be by many people.  The examples which are given to illustrate the usefulness of mapping are usually small and fit on one screen, real uses of mapping would probably be much bigger and consequently less useful.

In the following discussion I will focus on Mind Maps but the points raised are equally as valid for concept maps.  A concept map is just a hierarchy where an item may have more than one parent and so may appear in the outline in more than one place.

There is a lot of hype about Mind Maps and their use in navigating data.  There are a number of companies who present Mind Maps as being a really wonderful solution to visualising interconnections between data, and for small data sets this is undoubtedly true but it becomes less so for large data sets.

A Mind Map is topologically equivalent to a simple hierarchy which could be expressed as an outline.  In my opinion the fact that the outline can be scrolled in one dimension makes the outline more useful in the navigation of data.

In many programs using a mind map you have to arrange the branches in an aesthetically pleasing manner which detracts from the time you can spend on other things.  People waste time on the layout of the map rather than thinking about the content of the map.  Whereas with an outline there are simple rules which the program follows to automatically arrange the tree.

Once a mind map or concept map has grown as big as the screen on which it is being displayed there arises a problem of how it can grow any further.  You could make the branches of the map ever smaller but you eventually have to use a magnifying glass to read the text.  A better solution is to only display part of the map.

It seems to me that the conventional way of displaying a mind map has no advantages over the simple outline and has some disadvantages.

One could accept these limitations of mapping and work around them as the outline accepts the limitations of a one dimensional list and works around them.  In such a map the layout would be automatic and only the relevant part of the map would be displayed.  This would make the map more useful in my opinion.

A good example of what is possible is a program called The Brain (a.k.a Personal Brain).  This program only displays a small part of the map at any one time.  One item has the focus and the program only displays those items which are linked to it.  In practice this is a very good solution.

The developer of this program Harlan Hugh took out software patents on this layout and has aggressively defended them in the past.  One can find a list of these patents at https://patents.google.com/?assignee=Thebrain+Tech+Corp .

It seems wrong to me that a company can take out a patent on such a basic idea, a layout which has been used by genealogists for many centuries, one node has the focus, it’s parents are above, children below and siblings to the side.  The sole purpose of these patents is to stifle competition from it’s rivals.

The main patent in this list relevant to the automatic layout of maps is US6918096B2Method and apparatus for displaying a network of thoughts from a thought’s perspective however this patent has expired “due to failure to pay maintenance fee” on 12th July 2017.

It seems to me that a map laid out in this way is much more useful than a mind map which tries to display the whole map on one screen.  Each item is shown in context and only the items connected to it are displayed.  If you move the focus then the map is re-drawn with the focussed node at the centre.  The displayed map is always the same size no matter how big the whole map grows, this is mentally more manageable.

This way of displaying a mind map is fundamentally different from an outline and deserves it’s place in note taking programs.

Zinkydoink means Zinkydoink !

So, what does Zinkydoink mean ?

Well like any fictitious invented word it can mean whatever I want it to mean, it can mean different things to different people and it can mean different things at different times.

Just like another fictitious invented word which has been used a lot recently, I mean ‘Brexit’, and like any other fictitious invented word it means different things to different people and its undefined meaning changes over time.  So when Theresa May utters the meaningless tautology ‘Brexit means Brexit’ it is up to whoever hears the phrase to assign a meaning to it and that is the whole point, to trick people into thinking they are going to get the ‘Brexit’ they want when in reality almost everyone will be disappointed with the eventual outcome.

In my opinion Dominic Cummings the political advisor who served as the campaign director of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign committed a great evil when he designed the campaign to portray ‘Brexit’ as all things to all people.  He was very clever in the way he conducted the campaign, but he allegedly used some underhanded tactics and in winning the campaign to get people to vote to leave the EU he has condemned this country to be much worse off in the future.

The slogan ‘take back control’ was chosen to imply that we were taking back something which had been lost and which can be reclaimed.  It represents the desire for things to return to the way they used to be back in the ‘Good Old days‘, peoples imagined idea of the way things used to be.

But the world has changed and it is impractical to try to take things back to an earlier state, however this desire offers a way to manipulate people.  The Leave campaigns tried to imply that by voting leave and ‘taking back control’ that we could take Britain back to that earlier time of peoples imagination.  To ‘Make Britain Great Again‘.

Another factor was a successful attempt to tap into the discontent which has developed in this country over many years because of the centralisation of power in London.  Parliament is so London centric and so disconnected from the rest of the country.  They have become out of touch with anything which happens outside the Home Counties.

I believe that for a significant percentage of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment.  This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party which they thought was on their side, and so they rejected the whole political establishment.

However the poorer communities in the north of England and in the Midlands who mainly voted to Leave will be the ones who are the hardest hit by the recession which will be the inevitable consequence of leaving the EU.

The Leave campaigns also tapped into nationalistic and xenophobic concerns which people have by implying that we could cut immigration if we weren’t in the EU.  Many of these concerns centre on immigration from outside the EU which will not be affected by being in the EU or not.

The Leave campaigns were also helped by the incompetence of previous governments both Labour and Conservative who have claimed all the benefits of EU membership as being the result of their own government policies, and blamed all the negative effects on the EU, variously labelled as “Brussels” or “the (European) Commission”.  In the referendum, the consequences of that political cowardice really helped the Brexit campaigns.

Now that we are in this awful mess what can we do to get out of it ?

Not a lot !

I would be in favour of a second referendum but I fear that it will not help.  There is a political divide in this country and it is not the usual Left/Right divide.  This divide does not split along party lines it divides both Labour and Conservative parties.

I think that in the time since the referendum a lot of the lies and deceit of the Leave campaigns have been exposed and a lot of people have changed their minds but a second referendum would not calm things.  The people who voted Leave however misguided their reasons would be very disappointed if a second referendum were to overturn the result of the first.

Theresa May’s deal will probably be voted down however many times she presents it to parliament.  It is a bad compromise which satisfies neither of the extremes.

A No Deal Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster for this country.

Revoking Article 50 and staying in the EU is probably the best option but I don’t think it will be persued despite the petition which at the time of writing has four and a half million signatures.  Mrs. May has ruled it out as an option.

There aren’t a lot of other options.

British politics has become the laughing stock of the world.

How did we get here ?

Margaret Thatcher pursued a policy of ever increasing centralisation of power.  When ‘New Labour’ and Tony Blair came to power they should have reversed this trend but they did not, they failed to address the fracture which was developing in society despite being competent politicians.  They slipped into the system as they inherited it because it gives them more power and because it is difficult to change a system once it is in place.

MP-Farce

A very popular condiment in the House of Commons.

During the Thatcher years the British system of government became extremely centralised with everything being decided in and run from Downing Street, the rest of the country, and that includes Parliament, is under command rather than being in partnership with government.

During the Thatcher years the British constitution was drastically re-shaped and when ‘New Labour’ came to power they should have taken the opportunity to reform the constitution to make the system of governance less centralised but they did not.  This centralisation of power condemns whichever government is elected into a cycle of ever more effort for ever less results.

Successive governments since then have slipped into this same cycle of trying to fix the problems by imposing even more centralisation of power and control but this just makes the problems worse.

 

What can be done ?

The political system in Britain is broken.  These are my opinions on how it might be fixed.

We need to restore the House of Commons as the central political authority in British democracy, at the moment it is more like a creche where children shout abuse at each other.

There needs to be a devolution of power to Local Government.  This needs to be real power not just a token gesture, and it needs to be properly financed.  The financing could come from central government or local taxation but if it is financed through local taxation there needs to be a commensurate lowering of central taxation.

It would also need local government to be re-thought.  At the current time Britain doesn’t have local government which is fit to take this power.  But there does need to be less central control.

The Lobby system needs to be scrapped, or at the very least revised, it should not be possible for big business to buy government policy.  This is a highly corrupt system and what the people who do the Lobbying want is seldom in the public interest.

But the biggest thing which needs to be done to fix our broken political system is to sort out the funding of political parties.  The system we have at present is well and truly broken.

The Trade Unions fund the Labour Party and this allows them to control the Labour party.  The political levy for trade union members needs to be scrapped.

Big business controls the Conservative Party and it gets funded from donations by private individuals and businesses.

The trouble is that too many vested interests with hidden agendas control British politics.  It should be completely transparent and public.  All donations from private individuals, businesses and from Trade unions should be banned.

Instead a fixed amount of public money, a ‘Political Fund’, decided by parliament should be set aside to fund political parties.  Vouchers could be issued to taxpayers which can be given to a political party of their choice or thrown away if they choose to do so.  The proportion of the Political Fund given to each party would be decided by the proportion of these vouchers given to that party by it’s supporters.

I’m sure this system as I have outlined it is not perfect and would need some refinement in order to be fair and equitable but even as I have outlined it here it would be an improvement on the broken system we have in place.

I am also sure that this system will never be implemented because of all the vested interests who would like to keep the current corrupt system as it is.

And so we have come to Brexit, a result of a Conservative leader who started a referendum because he couldn’t control his back benchers.  The campaign was then hijacked by various interest groups and by a Campaign Manager who used dubious tactics to pedal a mendacious manipulative message.  And because of the general disenchantment of the public with the broken political system we have it was voted through by a very narrow margin.  The political leader who started this whole mess then walked away whistling a happy tune and left it for others to sort out.  And so after two years of negotiation the person who inherited the whole mess came back with a deal which satisfied very few people.

So the choices are, a bad deal, an even worse no deal or no Brexit.  But having no Brexit would cause huge political turmoil and probably cause the rise of some pretty unsavoury far Right extremist parties even more idiotic than UKIP.

What can I do now ?

I suppose I could apply for citizenship of another country, preferably an EU country, if there are any which would have me.  But I don’t really want to do that.

Brexit is a disaster and when it is finally over I think most people will be left saying “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for !” but unfortunately by then it will be too late.

Remember Zinkydoink means Zinkydoink !

Take Note!

Why do I use a note taking program?

“Notes on paper, or on a computer screen […] do not make contemporary physics or other kinds of intellectual endeavour easier, they make it possible … no matter how internal processes are implemented […you…] need to understand the extent to which the mind is reliant upon external scaffolding.”

Levy, Neil. 2011. “Neuroethics and the Extended Mind.” In Judy Illes and B. J. Sahakian (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, 285-94, Oxford University Press.

Why would I keep a set of notes on everyday insights and ideas over many decades, things which only I would be interested in.

Well, I write!

Imagine if you had to write a piece of text on a particular subject.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone came up with a list of suggestions and ideas for you on what you should write about.

You could then arrange these ideas and develop them into a coherent whole, fill in any gaps in the arguments, expatiate on any parts which need expanding and proof read it and edit your rough draft until the text flows correctly.  Then read it with a critical eye to pick up any background material which you have left out, things which you may already know but the reader might not.

Writing a piece of text like this is much easier than starting off with a blank page.

You might be thinking at this point that I am cheating here, only doing half the job, the easy half.  Surely coming up with the initial list of ideas is a major task in itself.

Well yes and no.

What if you already had a large body of notes on many different subjects, things which have sparked your interest over the years.  Things which may not have been immediately useful but which you thought were noteworthy at the time.

This could be thought of as a bank for ideas.  Obviously you can’t start making withdrawals until you make some deposits.  So you have to put a few ideas in there before it becomes even slightly useful.  But unlike a bank when you make withdrawals the ideas are still there and can be used as many times as appropriate.

Such a database of notes (a notebase) would be quite useful for ideas for writing.  The more notes it contained the more useful it would become and also the more interconnected the notes are the more useful the notes database is.  If it is small with only a few hundred notes then it is not that useful but there is a ‘critical mass’ of information beyond which it starts becoming much more useful and the more information which is added after that makes it exponentially more useful.

So, what is the source of these ideas and insights ?

Everyone comes across noteworthy ideas and insights every day it’s just that they don’t take note of them, they don’t write them down.  They don’t take note of them, and by the time they would be useful they have been forgotten.

I take notes.  I never go anywhere without the capability of writing something down.  I have a small paper notebook in my back pocket and I always carry a pen.  If I am going to work or somewhere where I will be carrying my backpack then I take my tablet computer.  The aim is to capture all the little ideas and insights which come to you during the course of a day.

Writing something down is more memorable than typing the same thing.

My tablet computer takes handwritten notes just as well as a pen and a piece of paper, except that my handwritten notes then instantly become available on my phone and computers.

Then when I get chance I read the notes I have made that day and write them out properly using full sentences.  Of course some of them get discarded for various reasons but often they find their way into the notebase (my database of notes).

Think of each note as you having a conversation with your future self and write in a way that you will understand, it doesn’t matter if it is incomprehensible to anyone else as long as you understand it.  It is best to write just one idea per screen.  If the note extends to more than a screen then it might be useful to think about splitting it into two notes.  So I write many small notes rather than a few larger notes.

There is another aspect of note taking which is equally as important and that is reading notes.  When reading a book it is essential to capture ones thoughts on the book.  Many people write notes in the margins of the book itself.  I don’t do this, for one thing it would deface the book, the other reason is that I would rather have all the notes in the same place and accessible rather than having to look through the book to retrieve my notes on that book.  Each reading note is accompanied by the page number and paragraph number which it refers to so that I can easily find the source of the idea again.

Notes can be linked together and used in different contexts.

I often go wandering through my notebase just to familiarise myself with the contents and this often sparks new ideas and new connections between ideas.

This idea is not new, my method is modelled on that of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, it is called the Zettelkasten Method.  A literal translation of Zettelkasten is ‘slip box’ i.e. a box containing many slips of paper.  His notebase consisted of many A6 sheets written on one side only, in wooden drawers.  Each card had a unique number and links between cards consisted of writing the number of the card targeted by the link on the card which was the source of the link.

Once many years ago I had a paper card index but it wasn’t as well thought out or as useful as Professor Luhmann’s slip box.

Then there was a Z80 computer running an operating system called CP/M running a program I cobbled together myself written in DeSmet C, and then there was an 8086 computer running DOS with a hypetext editor program called ‘Black Magic’.  I can’t find a reference to it but in some ways it was an early forerunner of ConnectedText except that it had much more limited capabilities and facilities in monochrome on a 24 x 80 text screen.

Nowadays I use a Windows PC running a note taking program.  I have been through many different note taking programs some good, some bad, some with just one good trick up their sleeve and the rest mediocre.  Finally I have found what I think are some pretty good programs.

There are advantages to using a computer program for note taking, links between notes are much more useful than on a paper system as are the other features of a computer program which cannot be replicated by a paper system.

There exists a program which was specifically written to replicate the Zettelkasten Method, unsurprisingly it is called Zettelkasten3.  It is free but the user interface is extremely awkward and clunky.  It is also not very good at revealing the emergent structure of data.  It is a very uninspiring and unimaginative program which has been overhyped.  I tried it a couple of times but I do not use it, I think it is an awful program.

There is another program called ConnectedText which is extremely good at being a receptacle for a notebase, it is not free but it is not hideously expensive either.  ConnectedText is probably the best at revealing the emergent structure of data and is probably the best of the three programs at being the receptacle of a notebase although it is not as pretty as InfoQube.  The editing is not as interactive as InfoQube but that is an artefact of the way it was written.

One of the really neat things about ConnectedText is the way you can place a link to a page which does not exist into a page whilst editing it.  The link comes out in red indicating that it doesn’t point to anything but if you click on that link ConnectedText will create a new blank page with the name used in the link and open it for editing.

Development was stalled for quite a while but recently the developer announced on the forum that he was back on the case.  However apart from the initial announcement there has been little apparent activity and the forum still appears dead.  I will wait and see, it would be nice if development was resumed as ConnectedText is an awesome program.

There is another commercial program called InfoQube which is also very good at being the receptacle of an notebase.  It is not as good as ConnectedText at revealing the emergent structure within the data but is has all sorts of other features which make it good at many different things.

The aesthetics of the interface and of the documents produced are better than ConnectedText but the functionality as a notebase is not as good.  The functionality as an appointment book is better, the functionality for project management is better, the outlining is better, many aspects of this program are better than ConnectedText but as a repository for a notebase it is not as good.

Linking things together in InfoQube is not as quick & easy as in ConnectedText and this is for several reasons.

There is a constraint in ConnectedText that no two documents can have the same name, all names must be unique.  So in ConnectedText you can just start a link and type the name of the target page, a list will drop down as you type and it will get smaller as you type because it only contains the names which match what you have already typed, eventually the list gets down to one or you click on one of the options in the list (and as stated earlier you can type a name which doesn’t exist yet).

In InfoQube there is no such constraint, several items can have the same name, they are distinguished by the ID numbers in the database.  This may seem more flexible but it is a huge mistake as it means that items cannot be unambiguously identified by their name.  In InfoQube you must select the target for a link from within a dialog box in which you search for the item you want (or a Tag or an external file or a URL or anything which can be the target of a link), this is more flexible but makes the whole process slower and more cumbersome.  To me this is a major detriment of InfoQube.

So why am I now using InfoQube for my day to day note taking activities ?

Well it has so many other good things all available in the same program.  The word processing features and the ability to re-structure documents mean that I am now using InfoQube instead of Scrivener as a word processor for structured documents and it helps to have your notebase to hand when typing such a document.  Of course InfoQube doesn’t contain such refinements as ‘Typewriter Scrolling’ which Scrivener has but … Oh well !

My notebase is present in a grid called ‘Zettel’ which contains an alphabetically sorted list of notes, deliberately not in any sort of hierarchy.  This is kept separate from anything else in the notebase, effectively this is the slip box.  Notes may contain links to other notes in the body text of the note and may contain a list of links to other notes at the end of the note as references (‘see also’).  I can pull out a bunch of notes and arrange them in a separate grid (created on the fly) as a cluster of notes.

InfoQube does transclusion properly so these are the original notes but you can arrange then into whatever hierarchy you wish.  You can do outlines in InfoQube, I do two different types of outline (my definition not InfoQube’s).  One is the normal outline and the other is the brainstorming outline where I move things about a lot to see what is the best representation of the information I have to hand.  For a normal outline everything is the same colour but for a brainstorming outline different levels have different colours.  In InfoQube you can define the formatting of outlines so that different levels have different colours, different formats (Bold, Italic), different fonts and different sizes.  This is a really good way to visualise things when you are throwing ideas about.

You can do outlines in ConnectedText too but it’s hard work (each item in the outline has to be linked to a document manually) and they are nowhere near as flexible as the ‘coloured by level’ outlines in InfoQube.

So the reason I’m using InfoQube is that it incorporates good word processing, brainstorming and adequate zettelkasten features in one program whereas ConnectedText combines good zettelkasten facilities with adequate brainstorming facilities.

Sooner or later I am going to have to ditch one or other of the programs (either ConnectedText or InfoQube) as my main notes repository because there is a lot of strain involved in maintaining two very different note repositories in parallel.

The ReMarkable Tablet, a second look

I wrote a review of the Remarkable Tablet in November 2017 shortly after I got mine, I have now been using it for about a year.  So how well has it fared ?  Well it has been pretty good.

Recap

The ReMarkable is a tablet computer used for note taking and as an E-reader.  It has an E-ink display which one can write on and draw.

The tablet is 18 cm by 25.7 cm by 0.7 cm but the screen area is 15.6 cm by 21 cm which is slightly wider than A5 size.

There are three buttons at the bottom of the screen which are (from left to right) ‘previous page’, ‘home’ and ‘next page’.

There is also a USB socket for charging and for connection to a computer.  The tablet can also connect via WiFi to synchronise with the ReMarkable cloud service and to get software updates.

The story so far

I have been using this device for about a year and during that time all the little bits of paper which I used to carry with me have disappeared.  I used to have a small notebook, a Lab book and a bundle of small pieces of paper which usually resided in a plastic bag in my backpack.  The contents of all these bits of paper and the notebooks are now in the ReMarkable tablet.  It is a lot more convenient having everything in one place, I am no longer left looking for that one bit of paper which contained that vital piece of information which I have somehow mislaid.

And all my handwritten notes now automatically appear on my laptop and desktop computers and on my mobile phone.

The ReMarkable can also be used as an e-reader and so I have various papers and articles in PDF format in the tablet.  When the ReMarkable was first released it had some problems with PDF files.  It converted them to bitmapped images (one per page) and this had two detrimental effects, firstly the annotations were not scaled properly when you scaled the page to crop the blank areas around the text.  The second was that the text could no longer be searched.  A recent software update has fixed these problems to some extent.

The annotations are now scaled correctly with the page and the OCR data in the PDF is no longer deleted so after being converted (copied to the tablet) it is still searchable.  However the PDF is still converted to bitmaps so the PDF file becomes very bloated.

It must be noted that if you copy a PDF file from your computer to the ReMarkable the original is not affected.  However the file copied to the tablet is affected and this is the one which contains your annotations.  If you want to use those annotations then when you retrieve the file back onto your computer it will be a lot bigger than it was.

It is good to use a tablet without having the distractions, reminders and alarms that come with most modern digital devices.  A pen and a blank page is about as distraction free as you can get.

The advert says that it’s just like writing on paper, it isn’t just like paper but it is by far the best writing experience of any of the touch screens, tablet computers or graphics tablets I have used or tried.  It is excellent, but it is different to writing on paper.

There are some touch screens which are glossy and smooth, these are especially bad to write on.  The ReMarkable has a satin feel with a moderate amount of friction which makes it very easy to write on.

Software updates

Since I got the tablet there have been several software updates.

Various things have been fixed and little inconveniences eradicated.  Many of the criticisms in my first review of the ReMarkable have been addressed.  The first of the updates improved the battery life considerably by switching the WiFi off when it wasn’t needed and only switching it on for a short time when it was needed.

The tablet now remembers what pen you were using and restores that pen when switching tools.

The handling of PDF files has been improved considerably as has the selection of templates.

Optical Character Recognition has been implemented so you can now convert your handwriting into text.  This feature still has a few rough edges however.

Overall the utility of the tablet has been improved quite a lot.

Pen

One disappointing thing about the ReMarkable tablet is the pen.  It functions correctly but it has the look and feel of a cheap biro.  An expensive tablet like this deserves a quality writing instrument and the pen supplied with the ReMarkable is not.

Don’t get me wrong it functions very well but it just feels flimsy.  It has a white plastic body which turns to white rubber at the writing end.  The white rubber easily gets scuffed and picks up dirt and marks quite easily.

Another problem is the fact that there is no pen clip.  This means that if you put it down on a surface which is not flat and level it rolls away.

I have found a metal pen clip which was made for a pen with roughly the same diameter as the ReMarkable pen and so my pen doesn’t roll away any more.

Replacement pen tips are now available on Amazon which is good as you get to avoid the exorbitant shipping costs.

Graphics Pad

It seems to me that the people at ReMarkable have missed a trick here, the tablet with the correct software could perform as a really good Graphics Tablet.

The problem I find with most graphics tablets is that your hand is in one place and your eyes are looking at another place.  You are writing/drawing on the tablet and looking at the screen so for me it is difficult to get the hand eye coordination to work.  I don’t know if other people have this same problem or if it might come together if I persisted.

With the right software the ReMarkable tablet could be a really good graphics tablet with it’s own display.

Buttons

On the ReMarkable there are three buttons along the bottom of the screen.  This can be a problem if you are writing near to the bottom of the screen in Portrait mode.  The tablet ignores your hand resting on the display, however it can cause problems if your hand rests on one of the buttons.

One of the software updates did address this issue and disables the buttons when you are writing near the bottom of the screen and this has improved the situation but it can still be a problem.

Another solution would be to turn the screen through 180° so the buttons are now at the top of the screen, this would mean that the functions of the left and right buttons would need to be swapped but this is not difficult to do.

This could be extended to have modes for left handed and right handed people when working in Landscape mode so that the buttons could be at either end of the screen.

Text formats

The ReMarkable functions as an e-reader for PDF files and EPUB files but these are the only two formats it supports.

Bizarrely it cannot display plain text files, this seems a very bad omission to me, there are still an awful lot of files out there in plain ASCII text and it is the simplest and most compact format to handle and display.

I have raised this issue with the support team at ReMarkable and I was told to print the text file to a PDF file and everything would be OK.  Yes but it makes the file many times bigger than it would otherwise have been, especially once it has been converted for display on the tablet.

Folio

The Folio is also disappointing.  It is very expensive and not very good quality.  I have one of the original folios which I got with the tablet, they were on sale separately for £59, these are no longer available, there is now a new version which comes in various colours and materials from £79 to £119.

I don’t know if the new ones are any better but the one I got with my original purchase started to delaminate within a week and the stitching started to come apart at one corner.  They are not worth the money and not very well made.  There are many sleeves which will fit the ReMarkable tablet on sale on Amazon and they are a lot less expensive.

Conclusion

The ReMarkable has become indispensable to me.  All the handwritten pages are synchronised with the ReMarkable cloud service whenever the ReMarkable is switched on and within range of my WiFi so they get synchronised with my computers and my mobile phone.  Even simple things like having my shopping list appear on my mobile phone is very convenient.

As an e-reader the ReMarkable is good, it would be even better if it supported plain text files.

As a note taking system it is limited by the fact that it tries to imitate paper notebooks so something more is needed to organise the pages.  I regularly copy handwritten notes into ConnectedText and InfoQube.

I can do OCR on pages and send them by e-mail.

Worth the money?

Yes, well worth it!

The mess that is Brexit !

In the run up to the referendum I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments.  Remember the big red bus with it’s message about giving the NHS £50 million a day, that evaporated almost as soon as the votes were counted.  In reality there never was £350 million a week because we don’t contribute £350 million a week it was a complete and utter lie!

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I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.

Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area).  There was never any public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.

I voted to remain but the area in which I live voted to leave.  It was a massive shock to find out next day that my country had voted to leave the European Union.  In the days following the referendum there ensued a complete political meltdown, the Prime Minister resigned, and Scotland was considering a referendum that could break the United Kingdom apart.  There were calls for a second referendum, almost as if, following a football match, we could ask the other side for a replay because we didn’t get the result we wanted.  Everybody was blaming everybody else.  People blamed the Prime Minister for calling the referendum in the first place.  They blamed the leader of the opposition for not fighting it hard enough.  The young accused the old.  The educated blamed the less well-educated.  That complete meltdown was made even worse by the most tragic element of all, levels of xenophobia and racist abuse in the streets of Britain at a level that I have never seen before in my lifetime.

In the run up to the referendum I saw Nigel Farage being interviewed on a news program and he was saying that if the result was any closer than 55% to 45% then the result could not be considered a clear and unequivocal mandate and so they would try to get a new referendum at some later date.  Obviously they were expecting to loose.  But after the result came in at 48% to 52% to leave suddenly it was a clear and decisive decision which should be respected.  What a hypocrite.

It would be a waste of time to go through all the lies pedalled by the Leave campaigns (yes plural), instead I want to look at the reasons for the mess we now find ourselves in.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Although it was a massive shock at the time looking at the bigger picture this is not something which happened overnight, there are deeper reasons for what happened, many of them have nothing to do with Europe but have a lot to do with our fractured society and the political disenfranchisement which many people feel.

So, what does Brexit represent, not just for the United Kingdom, but for the rest of the world ?

Firstly I will look at what it represents for the United Kingdom.  Looking at the bigger picture, the referendum teaches us something about the nature of politics today and once we identify these factors it becomes apparent that similar things are happening in other parts of the world.

Politicians seem to be blissfully unaware of how divided our society is.  How London centric government has become as if they are working for what is in the best interests of London instead of what is in the national interest.  Geographically, it was mainly London and Scotland that voted to remain, whilst most other parts of the country voted to leave.

But our society is not just divided geographically, young people didn’t turn out to vote in great numbers, but those that did overwhelmingly voted to remain.  The great majority of older people voted to leave the European Union.  There were also divisions along class lines and between the well educated and the less well-educated.

If one looks for a common factor which divides the remainers from the leavers then one thing becomes apparent.  The fault line of contemporary politics is between those who embrace globalisation and those who see globalisation as a threat.

Politicians need to take these divisions seriously or at least to recognise that they exist.

Contemporary politics is no longer just about right and left.  It’s no longer just about tax and spend.  It’s about globalisation.

If we look at what motivated people to vote leave or remain then we see two factors in the opinion polls that were important to many people.  The first was immigration, and the second sovereignty, and these represent a desire for people to take back control of their own lives and they also represent the feeling amongst many people that they are unrepresented by politicians.  These ideas are ones that signify fear and alienation. They represent a retreat back towards nationalism and borders in ways that many of us would find disturbing.

Both of these issues are specious, the idea that the vote on Europe could reduce the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming into Europe, when the vote on leaving had nothing to do with immigration from outside the European Union.  Also on the question of sovereignty, we won’t be getting back our sovereignty because we never lost it in the first place.

In the Leave vote, a minority have peddled the politics of fear and hatred, creating lies, mistrust and doubt.  But for a significant majority of the Leave voters the concern was disillusionment with the political establishment.  This was a protest vote for many, a sense that nobody represented them, that they couldn’t find a political party which they thought was on their side, and so they rejected the entire political establishment.

All around the world we see a similar disillusionment with the political establishment.  We see it with the rise in popularity of Donald Trump in the United States, with the growing nationalism of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, with the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the rise of the Five Star movement in Italy.  There has been a rise in nationalism all over the world and I think this represents a rejection of globalisation.

I think what we are seeing is part of a much bigger struggle between globalisation and what I will call ‘tribalism’.  Tribalism in this sense represents many things, the desire for tradition and traditional values, but it often leads to nationalism or religious orthodoxy and theocracy.  It also represents the desire for things to return to the way they used to be back in the ‘Good Old days’, peoples imagined idea of the way things used to be.

The world has changed and it is impractical to try to take things back to an earlier state but this desire offers a way to manipulate people.  The Leave campaigns tried to imply that by voting leave and ‘taking back control’ that we could take Britain back to that earlier time of peoples imagination.  To ‘Make Britain Great Again’.  But this was just manipulation.

There are some politicians who would welcome a future where Great Britain was nothing more than a 1950’s nostalgia theme park but I think this would be a very bad thing for the people of Britain.

I think there is a gap between public perception and empirical reality.  It has been suggested that we’ve moved to a post truth world, where evidence and truth no longer matter, and lies have equal status to evidence based facts.  Take for example Donald Trump and his ‘Fake News’ tactics, which is basically to describe anything he disagrees with as being false or a lie regardless of whether it’s true or not.

How can we rebuild respect for truth and evidence into our liberal democracies ?  It has to begin with education, but it has to start with the recognition that there are huge gaps.  It will not be easy.

Tribalism is attractive to many people who see globalisation as eroding their cultural identity, it offers solidarity and protects cultural identity, but at the potential cost of diminishing tolerance and stability.  Often the solidarity needed within the concept of tribalism is secured through exclusion and hostility to outsiders.  At the extreme end of the scale different forms of anti-democratisation can arise through anti-democratic one-party dictatorships, military juntas, or theocratic fundamentalism.

Tribalism is a group with a distinct cultural identity seeking a smaller world within well defined borders that will seal them off from modernity.  These groups are cultures, not countries; parts, not wholes; sects, not religions, rebellious factions and dissenting minorities at war not just with globalism but with the traditional nation-state.

Globalisation is characterised by the global economic, political, cultural and environmental interconnections and flows which make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant.  Globalisation promotes peace and prosperity, but this is achieved at the cost of independence and identity.  Cultures are intermingled in ways that some may see as an erosion of their own culture.

Globalisation has both positive and negative effects.  On the whole it is a good thing but there are some bad things about it.  At the extremes neither global corporate cultures or tribalist cultures are supportive of democracy.

There are some positive benefits to globalisation. The consensus amongst economists is that free trade, the movement of capital and the movement of people across borders benefit everyone on aggregate. The consensus amongst international relations scholars is that globalisation brings interdependence, which brings cooperation and peace.

But globalisation also causes a redistribution of wealth.  It creates winners and losers. To take the example of migration, we know that immigration is a net positive for the economy as a whole under almost all circumstances.  But we also have to be very aware that there are consequences, that importantly, low-skilled immigration can lead to a reduction in wages for the most impoverished in our societies and also put pressure on house prices. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s positive when taken as a whole.

In 2002, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, gave a speech at Yale University on the topic of inclusive globalisation.  In that speech he said, and I paraphrase, “The glass house of globalisation has to be open to all if it is to remain secure. Bigotry and ignorance are the ugly face of exclusionary and antagonistic globalisation.”

That idea of inclusive globalisation was briefly revived in 2008 in a conference on progressive governance involving many of the leaders of European countries. But amid austerity and the financial crisis of 2008, the concept disappeared almost without a trace.

Since then globalisation has increasingly been taken to support a neoliberal agenda.  It’s perceived to be part of an elitist agenda rather than something that benefits everyone.

We need to revive the idea of inclusive globalisation.

We need to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of globalisation.  If we look at the areas which voted to leave the European Union then it becomes apparent that those people who voted to leave the European Union were those who actually benefited the most materially from trade with the European Union.  But the problem is that the people in those areas didn’t perceive themselves to be beneficiaries.  They didn’t believe that they were actually getting access to material benefits of increased trade and increased mobility around the world.

Politics needs to become less polarised but unfortunately politics is becoming more polarised, all over the world.  One factor in this is social media and filter bubbles.  In order to keep people on the website longer so that they can click on more adverts social media sites automatically adjust peoples news feeds to show them more of what they want to see.  So once the AI on the site has figured out their prejudices and beliefs (and it doesn’t take long) then they will only see news which they agree with or articles which support their beliefs, anything which they might not like gets filtered out.

This is fuelling the polarisation of society and is a very bad thing.

Brexit has turned into a very bad mess and when it is finally over I think most people will be left saying “This isn’t the Brexit I voted for !” but unfortunately by then it will be too late.

Perhaps it is already too late.

Who knows ?

A comparative review of four note taking programs

A comparison of four note taking programs

If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been searching for a good note taking program for a while now.

I thought I would share my notes on note taking programs with anyone who was interested, and for several years I have been sharing those notes in this blog.  However when I first started I made a big mistake.  When I started reviewing note taking programs I thought the programs I found were pretty good and so I gave them good marks out of ten.  But I went on finding better and better programs (and some bad ones) so the scores became compressed into the top end of the range.

By now however I have seen most of the programs which are available and can give a more balanced assessment of them.  So for this note taking review I decided to compare the four programs I actually use on a day to day basis to take notes.

Two of them are my main note taking programs and I am slowly transitioning from one to the other, one is only still in use because I have an archive of older notes on it which I sometimes refer to and one is still in use because it’s cute and has some really great and novel features, but I won’t say which is which.

I was going to include Ultra Recall in this review but I don’t use it much these days, the implementation of tables is abysmal and the pace of development is glacial (this wouldn’t matter if it had all the features it needs and if the features it does have were well implemented but sadly this is not the case).  So I decided four is enough.  By the way, the tip for rendering on a high DPI screen (revealed later) works wonders for Ultra Recall, the graphics become very clear and sharp, however the text in the menus becomes tiny.

The four contenders (in alphabetical order) :-

This review will not give scores out of ten but just compare the programs to each other on the following criteria which I think are relevant :-
  • Writing
    • The comfort of the writing environment
    • The presentation of the text for reading purposes
  • Retrieval
    • Search
    • Favourites
    • Navigation
    • Tagging
  • Big Data
    • Database or File
  • Transclusion & Linking
  • Screen Presentation
  • Ease of Use

So, let’s get started, this will be a long review.  Sorry about that.

 

The comfort of the Writing Environment

If you do a lot of writing then it is essential to use a program you are comfortable with.  Most people are familiar with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) word processors and they have a lot of merits but it is easy to get distracted when using such a system, to become enamoured with the formatting and presentation rather than the content.

Beware, if the message you are trying to convey is not clear and unambiguous in plain text then no amount of fancy formatting can compensate for this.

One of the alternatives is to use a ‘distraction free’ writing environment.  This is essentially just a plain text editor which takes up the full screen.

Another alternative is the use of ‘styles’, these enable you to not think about the formatting, the formatting just happens, all you have to do is to select the element you are working on (this is a heading, this is a paragraph, this is a bulleted list) and that element is formatted appropriately and consistently.

One further refinement which is quite nice (but not essential) is the ability to load or select different style sets.  This means that the formatting of a document can be completely transformed without any changes to the content just by selecting a different style set.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText definitely does not have a WYSIWYG editor.  There are two modes Edit and View, when in View mode the source code of the page is interpreted and all the commands are converted into the content of the page.  In Edit mode you are in a plain text editor in which you write the source code for the page.  It is relatively free from distraction and if you choose the font and colour scheme of the editor correctly the results can be very comfortable to work with.

The one thing which I found incongruous about editing in ConnectedText is the commands which are embedded in the text.  They interrupt the flow of thought in the work.  Which is why I didn’t usually add them until I had finished the composition.

One nice thing about this system is the ease with which you can add a link to a page which doesn’t yet exist.  If you want a link to [[Page Name]] then you just type the name and enclose it in double square brackets.  If this Page Name doesn’t exist yet then following that link creates a new empty page with the name you specified and opens it for editing.  That is quite neat, and it doesn’t interrupt your flow of thought.

Tables can be quite awkward to program (yes you need to program a table in the source code) but you can get good results with some effort.  There is a table dialog but it is less than adequate.  Cell background colours are set by commands in the source code of the page, very powerful but not very user friendly.

Building a page in ConnectedText is more like programming a web page than editing a document, for anything which is a bit complex you will be editing the source code then swapping back to view mode to check the results then going back to edit mode to correct your mistakes then back to view mode to check if you got it right, and so on and so forth.  It is an iterative process.  It does not have the immediate feedback which you get from a WYSIWYG editor.

InfoQube

The InfoQube editor is very comfortable to work with.  It is a WYSIWYG editor with styles available in a drop down box, at least it is on my system, this program is very configurable and so you can compose your own toolbars with just the commands you need.  The ability to select from a number of .CSS files allows you to change the look of the document as you wish and the choice is remembered for each individual document.

The editor can be in a floating window which can be placed on a second screen and can occupy the whole of that screen with only a small amount of screen taken up by other things (just the toolbars on the top and left hand side), this is fairly close to being distraction free.

The document pane (the editor) can contain various different formats of document but the default is a HTML document whose format is set by a .CSS file.  You can have a number of .CSS files for different purposes each with different fonts, layout and colour schemes.  I tend to use a very plain one for composition and switch to something fancy once finished.

The implementation of tables in InfoQube is adequate but you cannot define the background colours of individual cells without delving into the HTML source code of the page.  Borders of cells can be dragged but the results are sometimes not what you expect because InfoQube ‘intelligently’ re-sizes the other cells to accommodate your changes and sometimes ‘intelligent’ can be quite dumb.

MyInfo

MyInfo has a WYSIWYG editor with styles selected from a drop down list.  Despite this I don’t think the writing environment is as good as InfoQube.  The editor feels cramped by all the elements around it, the properties panel can be dismissed but the tree panel cannot.  You can open the content of the document in a floating window but this is not editable.

The table implementation is quite good.  You can drag cell borders around and the results are as expected.  Cell background colours can be set but this command is hidden away in the ‘Tables’ menu, although the program is quite configurable and you could place the command on a toolbar if you wish.  I did this as soon as I discovered it.

Right Note

The programmer of Right Note did a good job with the editor which is excellent.  It is a WYSIWYG editor with styles for text and for paragraph.  The paragraph styles are similar to text styles but have additional parameters which control how the paragraph will be laid out (spacing and margins, etc.).  However these same styles are used throughout the notebase.  You can define as many styles as you want but having too many might get a little cumbersome to select.  They are not style sets so you cannot change the formatting of a document on the fly.

The editor cannot be in a floating window and so has all the same screen real-estate problems as MyInfo.

The table implementation is quite good.  Cell borders can be dragged about and the results are as expected.  Individual cell background colours cannot be set but the overall background colour of the table can be set although this option is hidden away in the ‘Table Properties’ dialog.

 

The presentation of the text

Once you have finished your magnum opus what is it like to read it.  This section is all about the comfort of the reading environment and the facilities which exist to help you absorb information.

Having multiple documents open simultaneously for reading is useful especially if they are in floating windows.  It is sometimes very useful to be able to refer to one document whilst reading another.

ConnectedText

In ConnectedText you can have multiple floating text planes open for viewing.  You cannot edit these panes they are solely for reading.  Each viewing pane has an edit button.  The edit button opens the page being viewed in the main editor and the floating pane is closed.  Although each reading pane is locked to one document (as it should be) the hypertext links on the page still work so one can navigate to another document using the links on a page.

The ability to select a .CSS file for each project (wiki) allows you to vary the look of the text but only one .CSS file can be used at any time so all the pages of the Wiki look the same as each other unless you include explicit formatting commands within the pages which defeats the object of having a .CSS file in the first place.

Overall ConnectedText is a very good reading environment, the experience is somewhat akin to browsing the web but without the adverts.

InfoQube

In InfoQube you can open multiple document panes in floating windows.  By default they are editable which means that you can have more than one instance of the same document open for editing.  The question then arises, what happens if you make different edits in different instances ?  The answer is one of them will be saved the other one lost.

The command to open a new document pane is buried in a sub menu of the ‘View’ menu of the main program which is not as useful as it could be.  So I put the command on a toolbar and now it is more accessible.

Also the command to lock a pane to a particular document is in the ‘View’ menu of the document pane (there are two sets of menus and two sets of toolbars each of which must be configured separately).  It is called ‘Lock Item’ which doesn’t really describe it’s function very well.  In my opinion it should have been called ‘Lock Pane’.  Anyway it can be placed as an icon on the document pane toolbars.

A document pane locked like this is not locked for editing it is just that the pane is locked to showing one particular document.

One really neat feature is that if you have many floating document panes open and lock all but one of them then that one becomes the default viewer, if you click on a new item then it is displayed in that pane.  If you have more than one unlocked then InfoQube cycles through each unlocked pane in turn as you click on new items.

Once you have the configuration of the toolbars sorted out the setup becomes quite useful.  You can conveniently view multiple documents in multiple floating panes and refer to one document whilst viewing another.  The floating panes can be configured to take up the whole of a screen for convenience of reading or tiled for access to many different texts.

I do think that if multiple instances of the same document are opened then the first one should be opened for editing and subsequent instances should be opened as ‘read only’, but that’s just my opinion.

Overall InfoQube is an excellent reading environment.

MyInfo

In MyInfo you can have multiple floating text planes open for viewing.  You cannot edit these panes they are solely for reading.  The edit button in the floating pane opens the document in the main document pane of the program window and the floating pane is closed.  Although each reading pane is locked to one document the hypertext links on the page still work so one can navigate to another document using the links on a page.

It is sometimes better to read a document in a floating pane than read it in the main window, this is because you can position them anywhere on any monitor and they can take up the full screen.  Documents read in the main window are limited to a subsection of the window.

Overall MyInfo is quite a good reading environment.

Right Note

Right Note has no floating panes and you can only have one document open for viewing/editing at a time in the editor pane of the main window which is a subsection of the main window.

 

Retrieval

There are four general strategies for getting the information you want and these are Search, Navigation, Favourites and Tagging.

In a personal note taking program the person who organises the information is normally the person who retrieves the information and when searching your archive you are generally searching for a specific item which you already know is in the archive.

This often makes searching easier.

Navigation to the location of the data is the way most people prefer to retrieve their data even when extensive search or tagging facilities are available.  People remember visually where their data was and with a hierarchical tree structure they can classify things into groups which are easy to remember.  Navigation generally requires less verbal attention and more visual attention.  Usually when searching people are in the middle of a task which requires verbal attention i.e. composing a piece of text.

It is easier for people to split their attention between two tasks if those tasks require different types of attention.  That is why it is easy to have a conversation with your passenger whilst driving but difficult to have a conversation with someone whilst reading.  This is why navigation is so popular.  The person can keep concentrating on the verbal task whilst navigating to the data they want more easily than if they are trying to formulate search terms whilst also concentrating on the verbal task.

A list of Favourites is not a list of favourites, these are probably not your favourite documents, they are an arbitrary list of the documents you think are most important or noteworthy to you at the time, the ones you want to be able to locate quickly.  And this list will probably change over time.

Tagging is the attachment of meta-data to a document to indicate some salient characteristic of that document.  These may not be just tags but includes all the meta-data associated with that document, or even the absence of such data.

For a really useful note taking program all four of these facilities should be available.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText has some on-the-fly search facilities, they are not complex and can not be saved for re-use.  However complex searches are usually built into the source code of a page and these can be extremely complex and they are automatically saved with the page.  The results in view mode are presented as a table which displays a list of pages which match the search criteria, each entry in the table is a link to that page.

Navigation is done by following hypertext links on the page.  There is no tree, but other parts of the program contain trees which may be used for navigation in place of the tree of a two pane note taking program.  The wiki in ConnectedText is analogous to a network of web pages which the user designs and the experience of using it is similar to browsing the Web except without the adverts.

Outlines are possible in ConnectedText but the titles within the outline need to be linked manually to the pages within the wiki.

Another type of outline is the ‘Table of Contents’.  If a page is built with more than a few headings in the body of the page then it automatically gets a ‘Table of Contents’ at the top of the page which lists all the headings used in that document.  Each of the entries in the table of contents is a link to the heading it represents.

There is a list of ‘Favourites‘ which are called ‘Bookmarks’.  This is not a simple list, it may be organised into a tree.  The list can contain named folders which can contain bookmarks and folders.  This is quite a neat innovation.

There is a hierarchical tagging system but it is not called a tagging system.  The tags are called Categories.  There is a command which can be placed on a page which places that page into a named category, category pages themselves can be placed in a category so that category becomes a sub-category of the category it has been placed in.  The resultant tree can be navigated and double clicking on a particular category will bring up a list of all the pages in that category.  The $TREE command can also retrieve a list of pages in the category and all sub categories (recursively).

Furthermore in the Categories pane there are checkboxes next to each category, if you tick an arbitrary set of checkboxes then there are icons at the top of the pane which bring up either the Intersection (AND) or the Union (OR) of all the categories ticked, as a list of pages which meet the criteria.

Arbitrary named meta-data may be associated with each page as text strings, dates, numbers, logic values (True/False) or drop down boxes containing lists of values which may be exclusive (only one of many) or non exclusive (n of many).  This meta-data may be used in searches or displayed on a page or used in calculations (pages may have a Python script associated with them which runs every time the page is rendered).

This text does not represent all the sophisticated features provided by ConnectedText, it is just the start, but suffice to say that all four of the facilities necessary for finding your information are very well represented.

InfoQube

InfoQube has good search facilities.  There is an ‘Omnibox’ which searches for a text string in the text contained in the Title or in the Document pane of an item.

There is also a ‘Live Search’ pane which does much more, and an ‘Advanced Find’ dialog which can search for a text string in arbitrary fields.

There is a Favourites list in InfoQube but it is just a flat list with no separators or grouping.  However you can make a grid and call it ‘Favourites’ (or whatever) and set the ‘grid source’ (more on this later) to ‘Favorites’ and the entire list of Favourites appears in the grid and you can then arrange the entries into a hierarchy and as it is a normal grid it is amenable to all of InfoQube’s tools for managing items in grids.

The arrangement of documents in InfoQube is not like other note taking programs.  An InfoQube notebase has ‘items’ and ‘grids’, an item is the basic unit of information, it has a title, a document pane which may or may not contain a document and it has a set of meta-data.

A grid is just a table of items, it is a filter which shows those items that meet the requirements for membership of that grid.  It can be thought of as a database query.

Items exist independently of grids and is possible to have an item which doesn’t appear in any grid.

Each grid acts like a two pane organiser the navigation is simple as the items in the grid can be arranged into a hierarchy, so an item can have a number of ‘child’ items and this list may be expanded or collapsed just like a two pane organiser.

A grid can have a simple ‘grid source’ which is just a flag to say that the item is a member of that grid, all items with the flag set appear in the grid (this is the default).  A grid may also have a ‘custom source’ which is an SQL SELECT statement or the name of an existing flag, all items meeting the conditions of this statement are included in the grid.  This is similar to inline queries in ConnectedText or saved searches in MyInfo.  Setting a Custom Source field for a grid can be a little complex for people who are not familiar with SQL (like me, but I am learning).

The contents of a grid like this get updated automatically when any item is changed.

Tagging in InfoQube has recently been updated to have a hierarchical tagging system and it has become extremely useful.  Simple AND/OR type selections are very easy to do via the ‘Live Search’ pane.  If more complex searches are required then a grid with a ‘custom source’ may be used and the criteria for selection can include Tags.  InfoQube has very powerful search facilities.

This text does not represent all the sophisticated features provided by InfoQube, it barely scratches the surface, but suffice to say that all four of the facilities necessary for finding your information are well represented.

MyInfo

MyInfo has very good search facilities which can be used to build complex searches based not only on the content of the documents but also on the meta-data associated with the document and the tags.  They are called filters in the program documentation.  Filters (searches) can be saved for later re-use.

Navigation is easy with a tree associated with each ‘Topic’ (a MyInfo file is called a topic).  You can hoist a branch of the tree so as to focus your attention more narrowly.  You can have multiple ‘Topics’ (files) open simultaneously.

There is a list of Favourites which may be organised into sections, but it is still just a flat list.

There is a tagging system which is quite good.  It is a flat list.  A drop down list of possible tags appears as you start to type a tag name and the list diminishes as you type.

User defined meta-data can be added, but the meta-data is common to all documents in the ‘Topic’ (file) so if you add a piece of data to one document that piece of data also exists for all documents whether it is appropriate or not.  The software developer states that if you have documents representing different things which require different meta-data then they should be in different files (topics).

Right Note

Right note has simple search facilities which can find a string in the body text or the title of an document.

Navigation is very simple in Right Note.  documents are arranged in several trees and you can hoist a branch of a tree.

Right Note has a list of Favourites which is just a simple flat list although the target of the link can be in a different Right Note file.

The tagging system in Right Note is a simple flat list which displays all the documents which have a specific tag, however this list can be refined by selecting more tags in another panel which then does an AND between all the selected tags.

 

Big Data and the underlying file structure

All the programs ultimately store their data on a disk but some do this by saving the notebase to a file and others do it by using a database program to store the data.  The big difference is that for a file storage you have to explicitly save the notebase at which point it gets written to disk.  With a database the data is usually written to disk continuously as it is changed and so there is no command to save the notebase, it just happens in the background without user intervention.

There are some other differences.  Generally databases are more reliable than file storage and can handle larger amounts of data.

For the load test I import text files into the notebase and see how it’s performance deteriorates.  I have a set of about nine and a half thousand text files downloaded from the Project Guttenberg website which I generally use for this test, these are not trivial files, they range in size from a few kilobytes to two and a half megabytes with an average length of about sixty kilobytes.

This is a severe test and a lot of note taking programs would either fail or slow down to unacceptable levels.  However this is a comparison of the note taking programs which I have found to be the most useful and reliable.  A bad performance when loaded up to this extent does not mean that a program is not useful for normal note taking purposes.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText uses a database in which to store it’s data. There is no need for the user to save the document as it is continuously kept up to date.  Each page is saved when you go from edit mode to view mode.

ConnectedText slows down quite considerably as the number of pages (documents) increases particularly with searching. Search and Replace operations were particularly hard hit and slowed to a crawl.  ConnectedText does not maintain an index of the words used in the wiki.

For databases of less than two thousand long documents or a lot more than two thousand very small documents you should not experience many problems. Few people have the need for more than this.

ConnectedText can open multiple wikis simultaneously.  They appear as multiple tabs so switching wikis is very easy.

InfoQube

InfoQube uses an SQL database as it’s storage mechanism and there is no need for the user to save the document as it is continually updated on the disk.

I was not able to carry out the load test as there is no way to bulk import text files, each one would have to have the text copied and pasted individually.  So no information is available at this time.

InfoQube can open multiple notebases simultaneously however each one is opened in a separate instance of the program.

MyInfo

MyInfo saves it’s data as a file which the user has to explicitly save.  The files took some time to import, but after they had finished importing there was very little slowing of the performance.  The places where it did slow down was on loading or saving the file (unsurprisingly), especially when the file was encrypted.  There was a slight delay when doing a search of all documents but nothing which would cause problems.

The size of the file increases rapidly for the first few dozen documents but does not increase so rapidly for larger numbers of documents.  I think the programmer possibly has some sort of word index for searching the notes, this will have a much larger increase in size for words which were not already in the index but will only increase in size by a small amount for words it already knows.  The searching in MyInfo is very fast compared with many of the other programs I have reviewed in the past.

MyInfo can open multiple notebases simultaneously, they appear as tabs so switching notebases is very easy.

Right Note

Right Note uses file storage to save it’s data.  The user has to explicitly save the file to disk, although sometimes (like after importing text documents) the program automatically saves the notebase for you (whether you wanted it to or not).

Some aspects of the performance slowed considerably beyond two thousand documents.  Right Note does maintain an index of words used in each document however the search times went up noticeably with thousands of documents.  The hardest hit was navigation which became slow with quite a noticeable delay in displaying a tree with two thousand documents in it.

When the texts were split up into sections (split by Author and genre) the performance improved considerably, searching was still just as slow but the display of a trees improved considerably.

Right Note can only open one notebase at a time.  If you open a different notebase then the current notebase is closed, you are prompted to save any changes if necessary.

 

Transclusion & Linking

In a hierarchy everything has a place and this can be a problem if there are many documents in the hierarchy.  A hierarchy can be viewed as a tree with documents as the leaves, as the number of leaves on the tree increases the number of places where an item might legitimately be placed also increases.  That is why transclusion is important, transclusion in this sense means the ability to place an item (document) in multiple places at once.  These are not just copies of the item, they are the same item appearing in different locations so if one is edited then all instances of that item change, if a new child item is linked to one of the instances it is linked to all of them.

Transclusion changes a Tree into a Directed Graph which is much more useful.

Universal links (or URI links) enable a link in one program to point to specific content within the documents of another program.  It also allows other programs to have links into specific content within the files a program.

ConnectedText

In ConnectedText there is no tree, pages exist and can be linked to so a link to a specific page will appear wherever it is placed.  This is a wiki and transclusion comes automatically.

ConnectedText can generate incoming Universal Links to pages within ConnectedText, but you can only link to a page not a place within that page.

ConnectedText can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

InfoQube

InfoQube is very flexible with respect to the layout of trees.  Documents (items) can appear in multiple places in a tree and in multiple trees.  Also the links to those documents are duplicated so if you add a child item to one instance it is automatically added to all instances of that document.  This is transclusion done correctly.

InfoQube can generate Universal Links to content within InfoQube, you can link to various things within InfoQube like the Calendar, the Surface (a sort of mind map thing) or a specific document (but not to a position within that document).

I have placed an icon on one of the toolbars to generate a Universal Link to the current item.  InfoQube didn’t have a suitable icon but InfoQube has an icon editor built in so you can roll your own.

InfoQube can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

MyInfo

The programmer of MyInfo missed the point of transclusion, the program can ‘clone’ nodes (documents) and if you edit one then all instances change but the child links from that node can be different for each instance of the document.  When you clone a node it is cloned without it’s children.  You can add the child links in but if you subsequently change any of them the links on the sibling clones are not changed.

These are not true clones.

MyInfo can generate Universal Links to content within the MyInfo file it can also use Universal Links to link to content within other programs.  The incoming links point to a specific paragraph within the document (the paragraph containing the cursor position when the link was generated) which is rather neat.

MyInfo can also link to files, folders, e-mail addresses and web pages.

Right Note

In Right Note the trees are strict trees no element can be duplicated.  There is no transclusion whatsoever within Right Note.

Also Right Note cannot generate Universal Links so it is not possible to link to specific content within Right Note.

Right Note can link to files, folders, e-mail addresses, web pages and Universal Links generated by other programs.

I believe that a new version (v 4.8) has been released which does have a full implementation of Universal Links but as I bought my license more than a year ago I am not entitled to this upgrade without paying for a full license again or getting their Lifetime Upgrade License which is nearly twice the price of a full license.

 

Screen Presentation

Things have to be presented well and be aesthetically pleasing for me, if not then it detracts from the overall experience of the program.  This is one of the reasons I have a laptop with a ridiculously high resolution screen (3200 x 1800), alas few programs can take advantage of this high resolution.

Most programs have fuzzy edges as if they were drawn on a lower resolution screen and then the pixels were scaled and interpolated to fit on a higher resolution screen.  The effect is slight but noticeable.

Before Microsoft introduced screen scaling with Windows 10 they made sure most of their applications were able to take advantage of it.  Only then did they release the new ‘improved’ Windows Presentation Foundation API to the outside world and all the other developers out there were left playing catch up.

There is a trick which can be applied and it works with some programs but not with others.  Pierre Landry the developer of InfoQube told me to try setting the ‘High DPI scaling override’ to see what happens.

To quote his post :-

With v110, try this:
  1. Close IQ
  2. In Windows Explorer, right-click on infoqube.exe > Properties
  3. In the Compatibility tab, click on Change high DPI settings (should be there unless you don’t have a recent version of Windows 10)
  4. At the bottom, select System (Enhanced)

The results were spectacular, but not just for InfoQube.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText has a problem with high DPI screens.  Some things would be rendered at their correct size and some things would be rendered at the correct number of pixels which meant that on a high resolution screen the icons were microscopic and the titles of pages were rendered with only the top half visible because the title bar scaled to the size of the pane manipulation icons which were now microscopic.

It also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip made no difference to the fuzzy edges, but it did cure the problems with the icons.  The icons were now drawn at the correct size and the page title bars were now correctly rendered.

For ConnectedText it is better to set the high DPI override to ‘System’ rather than ‘System (Enhanced)’ because the ‘System (Enhanced)’ setting slows down the rendering of the pages noticeably.

Being able to set a .CSS file improves the viewing of pages and with the settings of the editor you can make a comfortable distraction free editor to work with but the disconnection between edit mode and view mode is still incongruous to me.

The icons and toolbars are configurable so the user interface can be customised.  ConnectedText also has many themes which change screen colour schemes and toolbar backgrounds.

You can customise the different panes used to display various things in ConnectedText so this gives you an instant unconscious prompt as to the function of the pane if you set the background colours to be different for each function.

InfoQube

InfoQube is one of the most configurable programs I have used, except that it doesn’t support themes.  Panes can be viewed and arranged on the screen in virtually any configuration.  Panes can become floating and may be placed on a second monitor.  You can also dock panes into various sections of the main window.  This program is extremely flexible.

You can make your own toolbars or re-configure the existing toolbars, you can re-configure the menus.  Although InfoQube has a very dense user interface this may be simplified somewhat by taking out the bits you don’t need.

InfoQube also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip sharpened up the edges.  InfoQube now renders at the full native resolution of the high DPI screen and the text is incredibly sharp even at low point sizes.  It now has stunningly sharp graphics.

The editing experience is excellent, my preference is to have the document pane taking up the full screen just above the laptop keyboard with the rest of the program full screen on the second screen.

The ability to set a .CSS file for each individual document is also really good.

In InfoQube you can use Internet Explorer 11 mode to render the HTML documents, this means that the .CSS files can include Linear Gradients and drop shadows.  This may seem like a novelty but it is actually useful.  Having a vertical gradient as the background colour to a page gives the user an unconscious visual cue as to how long the document is and where they are in the document.

The result is stunningly sharp and clear documents with excellent formatting in a WYSIWYG editor in a full screen almost distraction free view without the effort of having to format everything being edited.  What more could one ask for?

MyInfo

The aesthetics of MyInfo are good.  The editing area is a subsection of the screen which is not good.  The graphics are slightly fuzzy which is probably an artefact of the way screen scaling is handled by the program.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip made no difference at all to the fuzzy edges.

There are no skins (themes) so the user interface can be any colour you like as long as you like pale blue.

The aesthetics of text editing are OK, you can set the background colour of a page and the default font.  The background colour is the same for all pages in a file.

Meh.

The icons and toolbars are configurable so the user interface can be customised quite a lot.

Right Note

In Right Note you cannot re-configure the toolbars or menus, they are fixed.  You can move the toolbars around to a certain extent but this is quite limited.

Right Note also has lots of skins (themes) some of which are very pleasing to the eye.

In the default configuration there are a lot of ugly icons, one associated with each document which also take up a lot of space and serve no useful purpose.  But it is easy to switch off these icons in the ‘Options’ dialog.

Right Note also had a problem with fuzzy edges.

Applying Pierre Landry’s high DPI tip sharpened up the edges quite a lot.

There are settings for the background colour and font of the documents but this is for all documents and if you change it these things are changed in all documents.

Editing in Right Note is quite good but the editing pane is always a subsection of the screen, it cannot be detached into a floating pane and moved to another screen.

There are named styles for both text and paragraphs which can be customised and added to but this would become cumbersome to use if you had too many of them.

 

Ease of Use

How easy are these programs to use.  This breaks down into two components, how easy is it to learn and how easy is it to use once you have become used to it.

All four programs allow you to configure the keyboard shortcuts so if there is a particular set of keys that you are used to using you can set any of the programs up to match what you are used to using.

ConnectedText

ConnectedText is difficult to master.  The basics are easy enough to learn but then when you are familiar with the basics there is a markup language which is every bit as difficult as any programming language to get your mind around.  Sometimes the syntax is obscure and arcane.

There is a very good help file which comes with the program and is itself a ConnectedText wiki and this serves not only as documentation but also as a demonstration of techniques.

ConnectedText is a wiki and so you have to adjust your thinking a bit as it is a different kind of program from the two pane organisers.  For some people (myself included) it takes a while to ‘get’ ConnectedText.

Easy to learn, difficult to master.

InfoQube

This program is so packed with features that the user interface is very dense.  Until you become familiar with where to find things there are many times when you feel lost, this is the same for any complex program but perhaps InfoQube is a bit more complex than the average complex program.

Once you have learnt the basics of InfoQube the learning curve becomes less steep especially when you find out how to re-configure the user interface.  But the problem is that the first part of the learning curve is especially steep for someone who is unfamiliar with the program and this is a big barrier to new users, but if you persist the rewards are well worth the effort.

Re-configuration to place the commands you need where you can find them is essential in my view.  Different users will want different configurations but one of the beauties of InfoQube is that it is so configurable.

Also there are one or two concepts which you need to learn which will make everything else fall into place.  Like the relationship of items to grids.

Unfortunately the documentation lags behind the actuality of the program because of the pace of development and the vast amount of material there is to cover.

It took a while to get my mind around InfoQube, I am still learning and there is still a long way to go.

MyInfo

MyInfo is about in the middle.  It isn’t the easiest to use or learn but it is not the most difficult.  It has all the feature you would expect of a competent two pane organiser.

Right Note

This is the easiest of the four programs to learn and to use, but that is because it is the simplest.  It is not as powerful as any of the other programs in this post.

 

Conclusions

As far as a comfortable writing environment goes InfoQube gets my vote.

Also for a reading environment InfoQube with it’s great .CSS files with the linear gradients and razor sharp graphics also gets my vote.

Looking at Retrieval MyInfo has the best Search facilities closely followed by Right Note. Both these programs build indexes of words within the notebase and this makes searching very fast.

Navigation has to be a joint first for three of the four programs, InfoQube, MyInfo and Right Note.  Navigation in ConnectedText is somewhat different to the other three and it takes a different mindset to become good at.

InfoQube has the best Favourites list, but only if you put the Favourites list into a grid.  If you don’t know this trick then the best Favourites list is in ConnectedText.

The new tagging system in InfoQube is just as effective as the Categories system of ConnectedText although this may change as the tagging system in InfoQube is still being developed.  So as far as tagging goes at the moment it has to be a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

Overall as far as retrieval goes, taking everything into account I would say it was a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

If you have vast amounts of data then the first prize must go to MyInfo but the tests on InfoQube could not be performed because of the inadequate import facilities.

Transclusion & Linking is difficult but it has to be a joint first between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

As far as the presentation on screen goes InfoQube with it’s razor sharp graphics and detachable floating panes is without question better than the other three.

But if you want something that is simple and easy to use then Right Note might be the right one.

Other Factors

There are other things to be taken into account.

The developer of MyInfo is in the process of writing version 7.  The current version is version 6 and this is the one looked at in this post. The new version might have great things to offer and might be a lot better than the one I have but his current plans are to release the new version as SaaS (Software as a Sentence) i.e. a rental version.  If this is the case then I will not be upgrading my license.

ConnectedText is no longer being developed.  The current version is good and still works just as well as it did when it was released.  The problems it had with high DPI screens have been largely sorted out but it still has the fuzzy edges.  It has a lot of good things to offer and the bugs which have been found have been fixed but the fact remains that it is no longer being developed and this may cause problems in the future.

The pace of development for InfoQube is frenetic.  In the last six months it has acquired Universal Links, CSS sheets for the Document pane, Google Calendar synchronisation (both ways) and a hierarchical tagging system.

New versions are being released every few days.  The pattern usually goes that a new version with a new number is released about once a month which has some major new feature, the interim releases which follow clear up bugs which have been found in the major new feature until it is working flawlessly.

The pace of development in Right Note is fairly steady and it does have some splendid features, like spreadsheets.  Think of it, a note can be a spreadsheet!  This is a very useful feature.  Also it has a fairly decent tagging system.  If you buy a license you get free upgrades for a year, after that you have to pay for any new versions or bug fixes.  It is a good program which is simple to use.

I think there is a new version of Right Note which has introduced full support for Universal Links.

 

The bottom line

Taking everything into account if I had to choose just one program from the four and give up the others I think it would be a close run decision between ConnectedText and InfoQube.

They are very different programs and each one does things that the other cannot but these are mainly the features I don’t use.  For example, all the project management and Gantt Chart stuff in InfoQube and the named blocks and all the CAQDAS stuff in ConnectedText.  Looking at the features I do use the capabilities seem fairly similar.  But they are very different programs.

However looking to the future the development of ConnectedText has stopped.  There will be no new versions or new capabilities, this is OK as the features it already has are pretty comprehensive.  If we are very lucky any new bugs which are found will be fixed, but I think this unlikely as the developer seems to have abandoned the user forum.

InfoQube however is under rapid development by a developer who listens to the users of his program and tries to provide them with what they want.  In one sense this is bad because it has led to a vast jumbled mish-mash of features which take some time to comprehend, and it leads to a complex user interface.  In all other senses this is a good thing because everyone is getting what they want.  It really is everything and the kitchen sink’, whoever heard of an icon editor in a note taking program?  But on the other hand I did find it useful to have a built in icon editor in InfoQube when none of the existing icons met my requirements.

But it makes for a very steep learning curve, and I am still finding facets of the program which I was unaware of.  The very steep initial learning curve presents a barrier to new users which is unfortunate.

Pierre has tried to make InfoQube everything to everyone and on the whole he has succeeded.  It is a very open ended program which the user can adapt to solve many different problems.

And it is still under rapid development, who knows what next year will bring, or even next month.

Pierre Landry deserves our support !  He is doing a phenomenal job.

Taking everything into account if I had to choose just one program from the four and give up the others I think it would have to be InfoQube.

 

Search over.