Recovery … What recovery?

So Mr Cameron thinks that we are coming out of recession and that a recovery is taking place.  There has been a lot in the media recently suggesting that the recession is coming to an end but I haven’t seen any signs of a recovery in Sheffield.  Could it be that the government are trying to create the illusion of a recovery just in time for the next election?

We have been in this financial crisis for the past five years and things don’t seem to be getting any better despite the government rhetoric.  The rich are getting richer certainly, there has been a recovery for the rich, but what about the rest of us?  Those of us in public sector jobs took a pay cut some years ago when the government raided the public sector pension fund and we haven’t had any pay increases since then.  So pay is frozen and prices continue to rise ... seems like a pretty bogus recovery to me.

If people elect a Conservative government then they get exactly what is says on the tin, government of the rich, by the rich for the rich (to misquote Abe Lincoln).  They get a government of posh boys looking after the vested interests of big business.

Unemployment is down, well sort of, most of the new jobs created are part time, short term contracts and zero hours contracts.  The minimum wage which was meant to be a safety net for low paid workers has become the ‘going rate’ for many employers.  These things are good for big business but not good for ordinary people.

The recovery, such as it is, has been brought about by very low interest rates.

Low interest rates tend to fuel borrowing, and unsurprisingly borrowing has risen.  Levels of household debt are now at a record high, even greater than before the crash.  It seems incredible to me that people use debt to try to spend more than they earn.  Over the long term you cannot spend more than you earn and this attitude of buy now, pay later is what got us into the financial mess in the first place.  Of course the banks love people to spend more than they earn, just think of all those interest payments and overdraft fees.

This is also seen in the UK housing market, which has been fueled by the new ‘Help to Buy’ programme.

House prices have risen rapidly and nearly recovered.  Across the country, average prices are about £30,000 lower than the peak £200,000 reached in August 2007, according to the Halifax, Britain’s largest mortgage lender.

A recovery which is fueled only by debt fueled spending, growth in the financial sector and a housing bubble is not sustainable.

Debt fueled spending in the housing market is critically dependent on interest rates and they will eventually rise which will mean that the people who could not afford to take on those debts without the low interest rates will not be able to maintain the payments.  The housing bubble will burst.

It isn’t just personal debt which is a problem, the country has been living beyond its means since the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.

Whatever politicians may tell us about the need to curb the deficit, debts on the scale that have been run up by successive governments cannot possibly be repaid.  The most likely solution will be to rely on inflation to diminish their value, but this also diminishes the value everyone’s money which will be impoverishing for the vast majority of people.

It is notable that the global financial crisis was created by investment bankers and financiers gambling with money (money that didn’t actually belong to them or that didn’t even exist) rather than by companies that actually create physical products.  These companies were all hurt by the crisis, but didn’t play a role in it’s creation.

In Britain the way in which successive governments have sided with the City of London against British manufacturing since the 1950s has had very serious implications for the economy of this country.  We’ve actually screwed industry and manufacturing in order to keep the financiers happy.

Any sensible person right now would join an anti-capitalist organisation.

For example, consider the bonuses of bankers and hedge fund managers, you would have thought the global financial crisis would have stopped all that.  Actually the wealth of the rich in Britain has accelerated just last year, and the bankers and hedge fund managers are still getting obscene bonuses.

And with a Conservative prime minister who has never suffered a day’s financial hardship in his entire life telling us that “we’re all in this together” I don’t see any signs of change happening any time soon.

The government is cutting the welfare and benefit budgets.  The burden of Britain’s deficit is being be placed on the very poorest members of society.

It’s very tempting to see the financial crisis and various things which led up to it as a classic Greek tragedy of hubris begets nemesis.

Like Icarus you try to fly, you fly too close to the sun and the wax holding your wings together melts and you fall down to the ground.  My personal view is that it’s not just tempting to do that but there is actually a lot of truth in that way of thinking.  I think the bankers hubris did indeed beget nemesis.

But the big problem is that it wasn’t the bankers upon whom the nemesis descended, it was the rest of us.

Review of Ultra Recall

This is yet another note taking program which I missed first time around.  I thought that my search was over when I found MyInfo, I thought that I would not be able to find anything better, but I was wrong.

Ultra Recall is a note taking program from Kinook Software in the USA.  It stores it’s notes in an SQL database so there is usually no need to save the file, the database is updated continuously, there is a save button but this just saves the current document.  The current document is always saved when you change documents.

You can have many databases open simultaneously, by default they are all opened in different windows but the program can be configured to open them as tabs in one window.

The results of the load test were impressive, with ten thousand documents in one file there was very little slowing of the program and the searches were very fast.  I got the impression that I was testing the capabilities of the SQL database rather than the program, Ultra Recall is just acting as the front end to a very powerful database engine.  That is not a criticism, this is the way it should be done, when opening or closing a file containing ten thousand documents there was very little delay, this probably means that it doesn’t load the whole database into memory at once.  This program should be able to handle anything anyone could throw at it, for instance someone doing research involving lots of scanned documents, these could be either copied into the database or stored as links to the local file system.  Then text, links and other metadata could be associated with each image to build them into a coherent whole.  The metadata in Ultra Recall is especially useful as you can define what metadata should be associated with each document.

The files created by Ultra Recall were quite big, for the ten thousand text files imported into a database the size of the file was roughly twice the size of the raw data.

For me this program is the closest to being the perfect note taking program of all the programs reviewed in this blog.  If someone had set out to build a program with the best bits of Scrivener, MyInfo and Connected Text then the result would probably have been something like Ultra Recall.

I am currently using version 5.1 of Ultra Recall Professional.

The program costs $99 from the Kinook website (price correct at 22nd February 2014) this is more expensive than the other programs reviewed except here except for MyInfo but in my opinion it is worth the cost.  There is a half price version which has some useful facilities removed so look at the comparison chart and if these missing facilities are not important to you then buy the standard version, you will still be getting an awesome program.

Take note that the program reviewed here is the professional version so if you get the standard version not all of the facilities I talk about will be available to you.

 

Overall Score  = 55 out of 60

Verdict    Exceedingly good.

 

1. Connectivity            =    10

Ultra Recall supports universal links, the links out are very good, you can link to another application and include parameters which could specify which file or document the program is to open.  You can link to an application file (in which case the file is opened with its default application).  You can link to a web or E-mail address or a folder on the local file system.  The program has a web browser built in.  Microsoft Office documents may be linked in to Ultra Recall documents and be displayed within the program using OLE.  You can link out to just about anything.

Ultra Recall also supports universal links into itself from other applications.  There is a menu command called ‘Copy Item Command Line’ (or Ctrl+Shift+I) which copies a universal link to the clipboard ready to be pasted into another program.  When activated this will open Ultra Recall at the beginning of the document which was linked.

Dragging and dropping a file from windows explorer into Ultra Recall has different effects depending on what type of file it is and where you drop it.  If you drop any file into the text area then this creates a link to that file, the file is still in its original location on disk and when you click the link it will open the file using its default application.  However it is possible to configure Ultra Recall to open Microsoft Office programs within itself using OLE (to do this you must have Microsoft Office installed on your system).  This means it is possible to have a spreadsheet as a document within Ultra Recall, the only other note taking program I know of to be able to do this is Memo Master.

If you drag a file into the tree area then the behaviour is different.  If it is a file that Ultra Recall understands like .txt or .rtf or .docx (and maybe some others which I have missed) then the file will be copied into a document and will be just like any other note.

If it is a file type Ultra Recall doesn’t understand then the file is copied into the database and the document just shows one or two links, one to view the file the other to edit the file.  If you choose to view the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application.  If you choose to edit the file then it is copied to a temporary area and opened with its default application but when you return to Ultra Recall the new version of the file is automatically saved and replaces the file stored within Ultra Recall.

There is a browser add-on which is installed when you install Ultra Recall, this either links or copies web pages into Ultra Recall.  So Ultra Recall can have either a live (linked) web page within its database or a copy of a web page as it was when it was copied.  Note that the linked web pages won’t work if you don’t have an internet connection.

PDF files can be either linked or embedded into the database.  When you open the file it is displayed in the main editing window and all the keyboard shortcuts work as expected (Ctrl+, Ctrl-, Ctrl4 etc…. ).

 

2. Classification            =    10

Ultra Recall can assign tags to documents.  One of the problems with tags is that the list of tags can become very long, the longer the list gets the less useful it becomes.  A way around this is to have the tags in a hierarchical tree to provide them with some context by grouping them.  This is not done in Ultra Recall but the tagging scheme it does provide is still quite good when compared to some note taking programs.

There is a hierarchical tree which is used to organise documents and this is where things get interesting because Ultra Recall implements transclusion.

In the traditional hierarchical tree a document appears in one position in the tree so you have to decide which characteristic best describes the document and ignore the other characteristics.  There is a problem where the document could be filed under two or more different branches of the tree, the tree becomes less useful because it becomes more difficult to find things.

The transclusion scheme implemented by Ultra Recall allows you to clone a document so it can be placed in two or more different locations in the tree, these documents are references to the same document and if you edit one then the changes appear in all of them.  Cloning a document is easier to do than in MyInfo, just drag and drop within the hierarchical tree with the Alt key pressed, the document appears in both the new location and the old location.  In MyInfo the document itself was cloned but it was awkward to keep any child documents of the clone in sync.  If you added a new child to one of the duplicates then it had to be manually added to the others.  In Ultra Recall this is all automatic, the document is a true duplicate so that any changes like adding or deleting a child document are automatically duplicated in all the clones.

Transclusion allows the hierarchical tree to become the tagging system.  Documents can be assigned to as many positions in the tree as appropriate.  Documents which are duplicated have a small arrow in the bottom left hand corner of their icon.

UR locicall linking + lineage search

This image was copied from the Ultra Recall forums website.

Documents have a rich set of metadata associated with them, these are called attributes.  Different items in the database can have different metadata (unlike MyInfo where all items in a file had to have the same metadata).  You can define your own metadata to suit your own purpose.  Some of the metadata is fixed (the system attributes) but the rest you can change, delete or add to as much as you want.  In practice the system attributes don’t get in the way.

The attributes are grouped according to a naming scheme which you define.  The default attributes are ‘System’ but when you define a new attribute you have to decide which group to put it in by choosing an existing group or typing a new group name.

The user defined attributes can be of many different types; as a string of characters, a number (floating point or currency), date and/or time, logic value (yes/no, true/false), reference to another document or (with the character string) you can define a list of possible values for the attribute (an enumeration) and you could even have this as a drop-down list, you can restrict the possible values to the list or allow the user to type new values which get added to the list.

So for instance if you had a collection of notes about various books you could give them all an attribute called ‘Author’ and another called ‘ISBN’ and this would allow you to search on author or search for notes on books, if you search for the existence of the attribute ISBN then you would only find those documents which had an ISBN.  You could define a ‘Template’ for ‘Book’ which already had Author and ISBN attributes defined so that it would then be easier to add notes on books to the database.

There is also an attribute called ‘Item Notes’ which holds notes about the document, this could be a description of the document or a synopsis of the document or anything else you feel is appropriate.

‘Templates’ are like prototype documents, a document is defined with a predefined set of attributes and also optionally a form to display some or all of the attributes.  You create a new template by defining a new document in the templates folder and you can define a form to display some of the attributes in editable fields above the main body of the document itself.

There is a default set of templates which comes with every new database.  There are two types of template in the default set, the core templates and the derived templates, the core templates cannot be deleted but some of them can be changed to a limited extent.  The derived templates may be edited or deleted as you see fit.

When a new document is created you are offered a drop down list of the templates which appear in the templates folder in the same order as they appear in that folder, so you can put your most used template at the top.

You can control what items appear in a newly created database by defining a database called template.urd and saving it in the same folder as the program.  This is then used instead of the default as the prototype database.

Of course having all these ways of classifying documents would be useless unless it helps you to find the document you wanted to look at.  Ultra Recall has a lot of ways to search for documents, there is full text search of the body text of the documents, or you can search within the keywords or the attributes or within a single attribute (all documents which don’t have that particular attribute are excluded from the search) or using a combination of the above.

Searches can set a list of criteria to meet and the relationships between the criteria may be defined using AND & OR, these criteria may be nested which effectively plays the same role as brackets.  Very complex criteria may be defined for a search.

Searches may be defined and saved as items within the hierarchical tree, when you select this item the search is performed and this gives you a virtual list of items which is automatically updated as the characteristics of the items change.  This is very powerful.

This is the most comprehensive and useful search facility I have found in any note taking program and is at least as powerful as those in MyInfo and Connected Text.

 

3. Text layout and formatting    =    9

The text editor is WYSIWYG all the usual effects can be applied, font, size, bold, italic, colour and line spacing.  Table handling is excellent, once you have created a table you can drag the cell boundaries about with the mouse, this is not common amongst this type of program.  Pictures can be inserted into notes and re-sized.  The text editor supports unicode characters.

There is no switch between edit mode and view mode, edit mode is on all the time, this is good, I found having to switch on edit mode quite obtrusive in Whiz Folders which is one of the reasons I no longer use Whiz Folders.  There is a spell checker which by default is in American English but you can download a dictionary in a large number of alternative languages including British English from the Kinook website.

There are several different screen layouts available, pressing F11 expands the central editing window to fill the entire window apart from the scroll bars, the menus and the toolbars.  This is not quite as good as the distraction free writing mode of Scrivener but it’s almost there.

 

4. A sense of time            =    8

This program has a calendar and you can link documents to specific dates.  You can set a reminder on a document so that you will be reminded of that document on the date which you set.  Repeating reminders can easily be set.  The settings for repeating reminders are not quite up to the standards of Thunderbird (the free E-mail program) but they are far ahead of any of the other note taking programs except for Essential PIM Pro.

Ultra Recall is quite capable of being used as a scheduling program for setting appointments, reminders and managing tasks.

 

5. Ease of use            =    9

Ultra Recall is quite easy to use and seems quite stable, despite throwing thousands of text files at it and doing lots of experimenting with its features I have not managed to get it to crash yet.

One trick I found is that I can open a document in an external editor, this opens a text document in ABI word, this enables me to view one document whilst editing another.  This is equivalent to the floating windows facility in Connected Text and MyInfo.

The keyboard shortcuts are all configurable so you can set the functions to be where your fingers expect them to be.  This is especially important to me because I have several other programs which I use on a regular basis and I find it inconvenient to learn a whole new set of keyboard shortcuts for each program.

The user interface is well designed and very configurable.  The fonts of many parts of the program may be set to your choice.  The toolbars and menus are configurable.  The screen layout of the placement of different window panes is configurable.  There are six screen layouts and you may switch between them, I have not yet learned how to define these layouts (apart from Layout 1 which is what you are adjusting when you pull the panes about on the screen) so I just switch between 1 and 2.  Layout 2 is the main editing pane maximised and all the other panes folded out of the way.

The only thing which is not able to be set is the background colours of the panes.

 

6. Visual Appeal            =    9

There are sixteen different skins which can be applied to Ultra Recall, I am using a skin called ‘Office 2010 Black’ which I think is quite attractive.  The skins range from quite attractive to awful, but different people like different look’s, what I find attractive you may thing is hideous.

The point is that this program is very configurable and the appearance may be tweaked to suit yourself.

 

Ultra Recall

 

 

Addendum to the review of Scrivener as a note taking program

It has not escaped my attention that there has been some comments on various fora about my review of Scrivener as a Note Taking program, so perhaps some clarification is in order.

I don’t normally group all my notes together, normally they are all grouped by subject in separate files, that is why interconnections between files are so important.

The test with lots of files was just that, a test, load the program until it breaks and see what happens.  If the program doesn’t break then you can be confident in using it for any normal sized set of data, and if the program does break then it usually reveals interesting things about the program.

The comments I made in the review about Scrivener slowing down when working with ten thousand notes was not really a criticism merely an observation.  It is a good thing that Scrivener works at all under these circumstances.

These are not trivial documents, they were downloaded from Project Guttenberg, the smallest is only a few kilobytes but the largest is two and a half megabytes.  The whole collection is around three quarters of a gigabyte.  I used these documents for the test because they were convenient, I had them for another purpose but whilst I was reviewing the note taking programs it was convenient to just import some of them to see how the various programs performed under stress.  The point is to stress the program until it breaks and see what breaks.  First with a hundred documents, then with one thousand, then two thousand, then five thousand and if the program is still working throw the full ten thousand at it.

Scrivener performed very well with three quarters of a gigabyte of notes.  The automatic backups were slow but that was the only effect, this is unsurprising given the amount of data and the fact that saving data to disk takes time.  Searches slowed down but not by as much as one might expect.

With MyInfo the only effect was that that the notes file took a long time to load and save, again unsurprising given the amount of data to be saved and loaded.  But MyInfo doesn’t do automatic backups so it may be that the data is less secure.  Searches were still lightning fast and the overall performance did not slow down noticeably.

At the time I reviewed ConnectedText I only tested it with about a thousand notes and experienced no problems, this was my first review.  ConnectedText is one of the programs I continued to use so later I loaded the full set onto it just to see how it would cope.  With the full set of documents ConnectedText became slow in some aspects of its performance.  Searches in ConnectedText slowed down to the point where using the program was difficult, also it sometimes ran out of memory whilst doing a search, I think the search engine (and probably the rest of the program) is only 32 bit.  Also I put an index of documents grouped by author on one of the pages, the rendering of this page slowed down to the point where it was very inconvenient to view.  But to be fair ConnectedText has some very sophisticated facilities and this was using a facility not present in the other note taking programs.

Memo Master performed quite well with about two thousand documents, I did not test it with ten thousand documents.

WhizFolders was another of the programs I continued to use after the review, until I looked at MyInfo which has taken over from it for everyday use.  WhizFolders performed well with one thousand documents but with ten thousand the load and save times were quite long, searches became slow and there was a few seconds delay when adding a new document.

Debrief Notes slowed down considerably with just one thousand documents.  It is not a good program to use for other reasons and no further testing was done but it would probably have slowed down still further if more documents had been added.

LexiCan slowed down to an unacceptable degree with only four hundred documents.  This seemed to be related to the size of the documents.  There would be less slowing with short documents than with large documents.

Essential PIM is my current e-mail program.  I tested it with a thousand documents and it didn’t slow down very much.  I didn’t test it with any more than that and deleted the documents soon after that.  I don’t use this program for note taking but it can generate links so that I can have links to e-mails from MyInfo and ConnectedText.

Personal Knowbase didn’t slow down with a thousand documents but with ten thousand documents the load and save times went up considerably, much more than would be expected.  Once it was running the performance was good, even with ten thousand documents.

Keynote-NF slowed down with only two hundred documents.  With one thousand documents it became unusable.  The slowing seemed to be proportional to the size of the document rather than their number.  A small number of documents containing high resolution images virtually crippled it.

Microsoft OneNote was not tested due to the lack of a bulk import facility.

MyBase slowed down quite noticably with one thousand documents but also there seems to be a physical limit on the size of the database, if you exceed this limit the program crashes.  The limit is approximately 300 megabytes but it may be lower than this.

_______oOo_______

I hope this clears up the point that I was not advocating that people should put all their notes into one file.