Review of Personal Knowbase

This note taking program is file based, that is it stores its data in files.  There was no significant slowing of the response times when using a file with over one thousand notes.  This program only allows one file to be open at once.

This is an unusual program, there is no hierarchical tree just a flat list of notes.  If no selections have been made then it is a list of all the notes in the file.  You can display a subset of the notes by selecting keywords or by selecting one of the queries you have made.  The idea is that you refine the subset until it only contains the notes you want or until the set is small enough to make a manual selection of a specific note.

Personal Knowbase does its classification and selection of notes better than most of the other programs, the trouble is that it does not do very much more than this, in that respect this program is a one trick pony but it does do that trick very well.

Personal Knowbase costs $49.95 and is available from http://www.bitsmithsoft.com/product.htm with a 30 day free trial version.  There are other programs available for a comparable price which do everything that Personal Knowbase does (except for the tagging system not being as good) plus they do a lot more, WhizFolders and Memo Master instantly spring to mind.

Overall Score = 33 out of 60

Verdict    Not worth the money.

1. Connectivity            =    5

Within the text you can embed links to a web page or a file or another note in the same file as you have open.  In addition to this each note may have one ‘attachment’ which is a link to a file or web page, the ‘attachment’ does not appear in the text.  Personal Knowbase does not support universal links and there is no way to link to a note in a different file to the one you are using.

2. Classification            =    10

Personal Knowbase has the best tagging system of any of the programs reviewed here.

In Personal Knowbase there is no hierarchical tree just a list of notes.  You can select what appears in the list using queries or building up a selection on the fly.  These selections are not as sophisticated as what is possible with the query builder, they only use a simple AND or OR, if you select AND then a note has to have all the keywords selected before it will appear in the list, if you select OR then a note will appear in the list if it has any of the keywords selected.

The keywords are in a flat list.

Very sophisticated queries are possible using the query builder which is a dialog box where you select keywords with AND, OR, NOT and brackets, the query builder automates the process for you and it is very easy but you can still type in the query if you want.  Once you have built your query and verified that it works you can save it and give it a name.  It then appears on one of the menus giving you instant access to all the queries you saved.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    4

Personal Knowbase does not support tables.  There is some basic formatting of text, you can select the font, colour, size, italics, underlined and bold.  Personal Knowbase cannot embed pictures within a note.

4. A sense of time            =    0

Personal Knowbase does not have a sense of time.

5. Ease of use            =    7

This program is fairly simple and easy to use because it is not very complex.  This is both an advantage and a disadvantage.  What it does it does very well but it does not do that much.  This is fine if it does what you want it to do.  There is very little configurability about this program.  You can drag the toolbars about but that’s about it on the configuration front.

6. Visual Appeal            =    7

The look and feel of this program is quite retro.  The screen layout is good with very little wasted space.

Personal Knowbase screen shot

Personal Knowbase screen shot

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The unpublicised limits on A&E

There is a problem in the Accident and Emergency departments in Britain and this is a problem which has been glossed over in the press.  I was absolutely amazed that the press have not picked up on this more than they have now that the information is in the public domain.

The problem is that each Accident and Emergency department has a limit to the number of patients it can admit before it suffers financial penalties.  If a patient is admitted and if they are within their quota then the cost of that patients treatment in the hospital will be funded.  If they go over their quota and admit a patient then the hospital only gets 30% of the cost of treatment for that patient.

There are also government rules on re-admission, there is a limit on how soon someone can be admitted to hospital after having been previously admitted to hospital.  If they are admitted within this time then the assumption is that their previous treatment was inadequate and the subsequent treatment is not funded.  But there are many patients with chronic and serious health problems who would have recurring problems whatever the quality of their treatment.

Think about this.  It is not as if the hospitals are empty and the doctors are admitting patients needlessly just to make money for their hospital.  Hospitals are usually full (over full in many cases), admitting someone who attends an A&E department is a serious matter, the patient is only admitted if they have a serious clinical need.

With this quota system it places an additional strain on doctors working in A&E when they have to take into account weather the hospital can afford to admit the patient.  The decision weather to admit a patient or not should be entirely a medical decision not a financial one.

I am not saying that there have been cases where a patient has been sent home when they should have been admitted to hospital purely because the A&E department was over it’s limit or if the patient had been admitted previously within the time limit.  But one could imagine a scenario where this might well happen.

How would you feel if that patient was one of your relatives?  How would you feel if that patient was you?

The god of ignorance

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
  Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
  Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
  Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
  Then why call him God?

    Epicurus, Greek Philosopher, circa 341-270 BC

Religion thrives on ignorance and whithers under the illumination of knowledge.

In ancient times man needed god in order to explain all the things he did not understand.

So why did the sun rise each morning?  Because god made it come up.  Why are there so many animals all different from each other?  Because god made them that way.

In modern times we have more knowledge so there is less that people can give god credit for but some people still try.  For example, they might say they don’t understand how the wide variety of species came about, thus they say it is intelligent design, ignoring the evidence for evolution.  They might not understand what caused the big bang, therefore god made it happen.  This is a common enough belief held by many people but one that has flaws.

By definition, the god of ignorance is a shrinking god.  As we learn more, we understand more and there is less to give god credit for.  Thousands of years ago people praised god every morning for making the sun come up again.  Today we understand celestial mechanics and so god doesn’t get credit for making it come up.  His role has been progressively reduced until now all we could plausibly give god credit for is the initial bang which started things.

If there is something we don’t understand then saying that “god did it” is lazy and fails to push the boundaries of human knowledge.

Evolution seems to be a natural consequence of the way things work.  When something arises that works better than the current system it is more successful and therefore it proliferates.  Even the big bang has theorists doing research on what happened before the big bang.  These are not impossible questions that will never be answered.

These are not guesses, they are theories backed by observation.

I have often wondered why religious people object so strenuously to the theory of evolution?  The theory of evolution has a simple elegance which makes you think ‘yes I can see why this has to be true’ but many religious people say ‘oh it’s just a theory, it has never been proved’ the implication being that because it is only a theory it is in some way invalid.  Saying that ‘theory is not fact’, is correct but religious dogma is not fact either.

The terminology used in scientific circles is confusing to many members of the general public and does science no favours but it is necessary.

A hypothesis is a theory which has no supporting evidence.  Once it has some supporting evidence then it becomes a theory.  If there is a lot of experimental or other evidence to support the theory it is still called a theory, even when it is generally accepted as being true.  Scientists try to keep an open mind and to say that something is proven closes ones mind to the possibility of ever changing ones views on that subject in the future and so in science everything is a theory.

For instance Newtonian mechanics was a well accepted theory for three centuries and it had huge quantities of supporting evidence but it was still just a theory.  It is a good thing that scientists didn’t close their minds on this subject because it turns out that Newtonian mechanics is incomplete, it accurately describes the motion of bodies traveling at slow velocities but if they travel very fast then Relativity starts to change the way they behave.

For the religious dogmatist to dismiss something as just a theory strikes me as being very strange because what they are trying to entice people to believe in is less than a theory, the religious texts I have seen do not have any supporting evidence whatsoever therefore they fall into the classification of hypothesis and speculation, not theory.  However we are expected to accept them on faith (belief without proof).  The people who put forward these hypotheses are so certain that they are correct that they need no proof.

On a superficial level it seems that a very old planet Earth, and constantly changing species, any one of which might become the dominant species is at odds with their literal interpretation of the Bible, so religious people object to it on those grounds.

But I think there’s more to it than that, evolution argues for a universe of flexible rules and constant change, whereas religion argues for a universe of fixed rules with no change.   I think that this is the basic reason why religion’s followers have not appropriated evolution as being the mechanism by which god shaped life on Earth.  They find change extremely disagreeable.  However pretending that something is the way you want it to be does not make it so.

The god of ignorance will always be there.  As we discover new knowledge, we will also discover new questions.  The god of ignorance will always occupy that unknown place.  He will never completely vanish.  However he will continue to get smaller and smaller and less important.

Why would I even want to believe in a god whose importance shrinks daily?

Review of Essential PIM Pro

Essential PIM is not primarily a note taking program, it is an E-mail program with a calendar and note taking facilities.  It stores its data in a database and it can only have one database open at once.  There was no significant slowing of the response times when using a file with over one thousand notes.

This is not a note taking program but it does make an excellent addition to a note taking program.  The program supports universal links both incoming and outgoing, so when used in conjunction with a note taking program that supports universal links (Connected Text, WhizFolders and to a lesser extent Memo Master) you can link your notes to E-mails, tasks from the to do list, contacts and events and appointments from the calendar.  This is more useful than it might seem, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The note taking part of the program is actually not very good, just a simple hierarchical tree with no tagging, but that is forgivable as the primary focus of this program is on E-mail.

This program is available from http://www.essentialpim.com/ and costs $39.95 (at 9th May 2013), there is a 30 day free trial version, there used to be a cut down free version but that has been discontinued.

Overall score = 46 out of 60

Verdict        Very useful, worth the money.

1. Connectivity            =    9

This program has good support for universal links both outgoing and incoming.  These links are used internally as well so you can link anything to anything else.  An appointment in the calendar could be linked to a contact or an e-mail.  All the e-mails concerning a particular project could be linked to the appropriate notes in your note taking program.  They can also contain links to websites and files.

In Essential PIM the notes, appointments, contacts, passwords and tasks can all have file attachments.

2. Classification            =    3

Ways of classifying things in Essential PIM are limited, there are a small number of categories which any object may be tagged with.  These categories are editable and you could increase the number of categories but I could imagine that it would become cumbersome with more than about fifty categories.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    8

There are the usual formatting options, the editor is nice and simple to use but it is not quite up to the standards of a word processor.  The editing of tables is quite good, you can drag the boundaries around with the mouse.  Pictures can be inserted.  Overall this is a good editor and is better than many of the editors in the programs reviewed here.

4. A sense of time            =    10

As you might imagine one of the primary purposes of this program is managing appointments and tasks therefore its sense of time is very good.  Although e-mails and notes cannot be directly linked to a date they can be linked to an appointment or task with a date.

Appointments and tasks can be made to repeat and this is very flexible, so you could for example set an appointment or task to happen on the last Thursday of every second month.  It is not as flexible as the calendar in Mozilla Thunderbird but then Mozilla Thunderbird is not as open to connection as Essential PIM.

5. Ease of use            =    8

Essential PIM is easy to use and most things are pretty obvious.  It is not the most configurable of programs but the choices which have been made for the user interface are quite well thought out

6. Visual Appeal            =    8

Essential PIM is a good looking program.  The screen is divided up into several sections for the display of different information, if you don’t like the proportions then you can just drag the borders about with the mouse.  There is very little unnecessary clutter.

screenshot of Essential PIM Pro

screenshot of Essential PIM Pro

 

Empathy?

I am a very literal person, that is why I like electronics, it is predictable and deterministic.

I tend to interpret things literally, but that’s just the way I am.  Over the years I have come to the conclusion that my brain works differently to everyone else’s (notice I said differently, not better or worse just different).  There is an abstraction process which goes on in the minds of most people, they automatically see one thing as representing another whereas I have to make that link manually.  For example someone makes a statement and other people automatically think ‘oh she doesn’t really mean that, what she is trying to say is …’ but I just take the statement as a literal representation and then I have to remember to think about what other meanings there might be behind the statement.

This does not mean that I cannot do this kind of abstraction, it is just that for me the abstraction is always explicit and never implicit.  It is just a different way of looking at the world.

I also have a problem with empathy.

My understanding of empathy is that it is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, emotions and position.  To understand what is going on inside another person’s mind, to interpret their facial expression and body language.  According to the psychology textbooks empathy makes the other person feel valued and enables them to see that their thoughts and feelings have been acknowledged.

I am told that empathy allows people to make a close friend and look after that friendship.  Empathy avoids the risk of misunderstanding and miscommunication, because people who have empathy can figure out what the other person intended.

But this is an alien world, closed to me.  I have no idea how I come across to people.  I have read about empathy and analysed it as much as I can but I still cannot empathise with anyone.  I have read books on body language but it is still a foreign language of which I have little understanding.

I have noticed that other people seem to communicate as much through their eyes as through their words and they seem to know what the other person means intuitively.  I haven’t got a clue how to do body language, perhaps this puts me at a disadvantage, I don’t know.  Some people have said that I can be very didactic, that I lecture them rather than having a proper conversation, I don’t know what the characteristics of a proper conversation are, surely if I have a point to make then I must pursue it to it’s logical conclusion.  I admit that sometimes I do lecture people when I forget to try to keep up the illusion that I have some empathy.

I can and do try to emulate what I think the process of empathy might produce but this is an intellectual process it does not come naturally and so I make many mistakes.  I pretend to be normal but I miss subtle clues as to what people think and feel.  Sometimes I don’t understand jokes everyone else finds funny, chatting with people and making small talk is a nightmare, it is exhausting and stressful to keep up this pretence.

Conversations based on the adjudication of an issue where evidence can be examined and judged in favour or against a position are much easier, because then I know where the conversation is going.  I like a conversation which progresses along a logically linked linear path, a series of facts or assertions which follow clearly from from the preceding steps.  I find the desultory ‘small talk’ type of conversation stressful because it is so unpredictable.  People change the subject like a bee flitting from one flower to the next without a care for the overall direction of the conversation, it is so confusing, ‘idle chitchat’ leads nowhere and I have no idea how to do it properly.

If I think something is wrong then my instinct is to say so, but I have learned that this can be fraught with difficulties so most of the time I say nothing even though I would like to, I just don’t know how people will react to what I have to say.  If a conversation is boring for instance people can be offended if you tell them so, but if you don’t tell them then you are stuck listening to a pointless conversation going nowhere.

Other people seem to socialise together effortlessly but I have no idea what to talk to them about.  I have little idea what others are thinking about or how they feel or how to respond to those feelings.  I have learnt to assume what others are thinking and feeling but this is a conscious cognitive exercise, it does not come naturally to me.  I have to stop and think about what people might be feeling, to work out the patterns in people’s behaviour and how this relates to their internal feelings, usually this is after the event and is a very inferior and inaccurate model of what actually happened.

I feel like a prisoner of my self focus.  This is because my self focus is the only thing which is available to me, I cannot perceive other peoples thoughts and feelings.  Peoples facial expressions are difficult to read, I never really know what is expected of me.  I say all the wrong things without anticipating the hurt this will cause, until people react badly.  Usually I just keep quiet.

When I can be alone it is a great relief, I can relax and I no longer have to pretend to be like other people, and yet I become lonely when I am alone too long.

It took me a long time to even realise that I have no empathy, I suppose one of the effects of not having empathy is that it is hard to recognise the fact that you have no empathy.  I only knew that I had no friends either male or female and that all my personal relationships always seem to go disastrously wrong.  There was one colleague at work whom I considered to be a friend for many years but I offended him some time ago and now although he is still superficially friendly our conversations are limited to the most anodyne of subjects and the social interaction we used to have has been curtailed. Sigh …

Eventually I read an article in a psychology journal about relationships and realised what they were describing was not the way my mind works and so I started reading about psychology and trying to understand the nature of the problem.  Unfortunately understanding the nature of the problem does not help to solve the problem.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

I decided that psychology could not be classified as a rigorous science but that it does have some value despite it’s shortcomings.

Reflections on Human Proliferation

Growth for the sake of growth is the

philosophy of the cancer cell.”

Edward Abbey

The unease which environmental issues cause governments is obvious.  The science is clear enough and the economic case for tackling climate change is compelling.  To take one figure, according to the Stern report, 1% of Gross Domestic Product spent reducing the world’s carbon output now would prevent damage from climate change of up to 20% of GDP over the next few decades.

Yet governments continue to equivocate.

Global summits from Kyoto onwards have been exercises in ‘too little too late’ and in being more interested in appearing to be tackling the problem than actually doing anything effective about it.  I don’t think this is because they think nothing should be done.  It is just that they are not sure how much they can get away with.  Both in terms of the minimum necessary expenditure required to save the planet and more importantly in the sense of what they think their citizens will tolerate in terms of increased taxes and decreased choices.

So governments concentrate on climate change and CO2 as the problem, but this is not the problem, it is merely a symptom of the problem.  The real problem is our expanding population.  If we could control our population then tackling climate change and CO2 emissions would be easy.

The expectation that things have to grow seems to be deeply embedded in the human psyche, populations have to increase, economic output has to increase, there must be profit and interest and GDP must only go in one direction.

And so governments ignore the main problem faced by our environment and our continued existence within that environment.  We have reduced the problem to one of carbon emissions and not the unsustainable way we live our lives, we are concentrating on the one of the side shows and ignoring the main event.

The main threat to the environment is the huge numbers of human beings on the planet.  Without a reduction in the human population all the other efforts to save the planet are pointless.

But a reduction in human population is not going to happen any time soon, it is against human nature.

Those governments who are unwilling to address the issue of population control are merely re-arranging the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic as the ship slowly descends into the water.

But democratic governments would rather not discuss the contentious issue of population control because they know it would be political suicide and almost all environmental groups are reluctant to address this issue because if they do so then they will quickly loose support from the general public.

If there is anyone reading this who thinks that we can all just reduce our carbon footprint and all adopt sustainable lifestyles to save the environment just consider for a moment, at the current rate of increase the world’s population doubles every forty years.

Just suppose we were successful in all our efforts to try and save the environment, bear in mind that our best efforts so far have only seen a small reduction in the rate of increase of carbon emissions.  However suppose that we were successful far beyond any reasonable expectations, suppose we cut our carbon emissions by half and that we found more economic ways to use resources so that we only use half the resources we currently use.  Would this implausible level of success be enough to save the planet?

No!

It would only postpone things.  In forty years time we would be back to the same situation as we face today except that there would be twice as many people on the planet.

There was a quote from David Attenborough (although I have not yet located the source or verified it but I do remember hearing it) in one of his programs he said “You cannot have infinite growth within a finite system, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either insane or is an economist.”

So, what can we do to reduce the population?

Not a lot!

Having babies, is so much a part of human life that it is rarely thought even to require a justification.  The majority of people do not even think about whether they should have children or not.  They just have them.  In other words, procreation is usually the consequence of sex rather than the result of a decision to bring more children into a world that already has far too many.

Any measures we introduce to restrict the growth of population will either be voluntary or they will be involuntary, both are ineffective.

Most democratic governments would not seriously consider imposing mandatory restrictions on the number of children their citizens can have, they know it would be political suicide and that they would be out at the next election.  Non democratic governments might introduce restrictions to the number of children its citizens can have but they do so at their own peril because these restrictions are highly unpopular and as we have seen in China they are not particularly effective, especially in the rural areas.

So what about voluntary reductions in the number of children?  We might see public awareness campaigns and offers of free contraception, adverts explaining the problem and urging people to exercise restraint.  These measures would only influence a portion of the population.

Those people who are intelligent enough to recognise the plight of the world would have fewer children.

Those people who are not intelligent enough to realise the peril or who couldn’t care less about it and those who have been inculcated into a religion which proclaims that their followers have the god given right to overpopulate the planet (that covers almost every religion) would go on breeding without restraint.

The result would be that the next generation would have fewer intelligent people who cared about the future of humanity and more people who only focus on their own immediate short term problems.  Evolution only rewards success at procreation.  Those who choose not to have children effectively remove themselves from the gene pool.

In other words, people who care about the state of the planet will be out competed by those who don’t.  In evolutionary terms a trait is only successful if it confers an advantage in terms of numbers of surviving offspring to those individuals who have it, and in this case stupidity confers an advantage and so it would proliferate.

So what is going to happen in the future?

That is very simple.  If we will not or cannot control our population then nature will control it for us.  When we have too many people for our food supply then some or all of them will starve.  When there are too many people for the space we have then disputes will arise and there will be wars.  If we turn our food production into a huge monoculture then sooner or later some disease or parasite will come along and wipe it out for us.

Nature is a huge web of interconnected systems all dependent on each other for their mutual survival.  If we destroy enough of this web then we will end up destroying ourselves.  Nature can survive without humans, it has done so for most of the history of our planet, can humans survive without nature?

I think not!

It’s that simple, overpopulation will eventually lead to a population crash.

We can only hope that we do not succeed in destroying all life on earth, that would be a pity because it is a beautiful place.