Taking Notes, 2013

Taking Notes has never been so easy or so confusing.

Posted Jan 06, 2013

Last January, 2012, I wrote a blog about learning how to take better notes, and I have come a long way since then and would like to update my readers about new developments in the computer notes department. I have learned a lot!

For ordinary appointments or recurring events, I use Google Calendar, and I share my Calendar with David so that we can each see what we are doing. I use this web service to remember appointments, bills, and routine medical and veterinary care, like worming my dogs. I add account numbers, addresses and phone numbers to the notes. I even use Google calendar to communicate with other people with whom I share interests, for example, a riding schedule for a horse I share. Simple, quick, free and easy.

For little errands and To Do Lists, I have not bonded to a simple method. Remember the Milk is a nice little app that uses Dropbox to synch from computer to iPad. If you log onto the RemembertheMilk web site, you can get an extension to your browser that makes adding simple tasks easy, and it shows up right next to your email. This is a free service, but a professional upgrade is available. Free has been fine for me.

 OmniFocus is much more complex, and covers materials by contexts and projects. http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus/There is a synchronized iPad app as well, http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnifocus-ipad/

Having the ability to coordinate Macbook with iPad is great! These are somewhat costly products, but they work without crashes or glitches.

 A new iPad app called WisdomWriter is very appealing because it uses quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh as examples of notes, and to start your database nicely. It is either free or inexpensive, and has a pretty interface, nice fonts and colors.  For some reason, the interface felt like writing with a calligraphy pen, smooth and aesthetic. I like it! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wisdom/

 Nothing beats the Kindle and its apps for iPad and regular computers for e-book reading and note taking. I have grown to love my iPad, but I was initially very frustrated about taking notes because there is no way to attach it to a regular computer and just drag the notes and highlights onto the desktop. Then recently it came to my attention that Amazon has given us something even better: a dedicated web page where all of your notes are stored, I hope indefinitely, and they are searchable and can be cut and pasted. If you have a Kindle, or use a Kindle app, go to www.kindle.amazon.com and log in. You will have the option of going to Your Books, and thence to Your Notes. There they are beautiful, searchable, and cut and paste-able. Much much nicer than the old USB drag and drop method. Thank you Amazon! Please keep this up!


I read a lot on the web. For searching scientific literature and making a pdf library, I like Papers and its iPad app. Here is the link:  http://tinyurl.com/a5r8ul6  You can search many libraries at once, download your favorites as pdfs and find and search them again as needed. I use Dropbox to maintain my pdf library, which now has about 1000 entries. Evernote and its applications (Web Clipper and Clearly) make it easy to save any web page as a file, backed up on the cloud, searchable on both the computer and iPad. So far, the free version suits me fine. Devonthink Pro is a stronger program that makes any web page into a pdf, http://www.devontechnologies.com/products/devonthink/devonthink-pro-office.html but it is expensive. I find that for scientific articles, Devonthink is superior to Evernote because the pdfs are saved more clearly and can be added to the Papers library.


For mind-mapping, I experimented with Buzan http://www.thinkbuzan.com/intl/ but found it garish. MindMeister is easier, more intuitive, and less expensive. I had a great time outlining my book one night just playing with the buttons, Because it is so easy, it lets me play with my thoughts rather than thinking too much about how to work the software. http://www.mindmeister.com/


However, the mainstay of my mapping is still in Tinderbox, http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/ because it is as simple or complex as one wants, plain outlines or colorful maps. The cost is high, for both the software and several excellent tutorials and a book, The Tinderbox Way, written by Mark Bernstein, the author of the software.  I think the truth is that Tinderbox can do pretty much what Mindmeister or Devon or the other programs do, but you have to learn to think hypertext, and that has been hard for me. As yet, there is no Tinderbox for iPad, but it will come. You can take notes in Simplenote that synch through Dropbox to Tinderbox, but it is not optimal. What works for me is that with TB, one can see notes as outline, map, textfile, graph, or other formats, and you can customize how the notes sort themselves.  Bernstein's book and excellent examples show how Tinderbox can become a way of life, making taking notes, storing notes, using them, and finding them again easy and almost automatic. 


My book notes are in Scrivener, http://literatureandlatte.com/ Scrivener can import almost any type of file, from jpg to .doc to html, and there is a Scrivener template on Tinderbox. I take notes for my book in Scrivener, including storing whole pdfs there, and then I can view the book as an outline, an imaginary corkboard, or an entire exportable manuscript. Again, there is no simple Scrivener for iPad app yet.


Meanwhile, my husband David has written 32 books now, initially with a pen and paper, then a typewriter, then computers and various versions of Microsoft Word. He reads books and pdfs, makes handwritten marks on the covers of the books, and keeps stacks of word documents that he links to form a book when he is ready. Word seems to last forever. David is currently using Word 2007 and completed 4 books with it in 2012. I wish I could think and write like David, whose system is so simple it has lasted 35 years with little modification. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there is no iPad version of Office or Word. You can use a Microsoft Cloud app that accesses documents stored in Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or the Microsoft Cloud itself, and then edit documents, but the formatting is fuzzy and it is not optimal. When the time comes to write our book about happiness from cover to cover, I will export my thoughts from Scrivener to Word, and then share back and forth with David and our editors. Word is still the gold standard for getting a book into “print”, not just clusters of pixels.


Why does it bother me not to have both computer based and iPad software that is integrated? It is because I increasingly use both! My Macbook Air to write, do research, and take notes, and my iPad to read. The iPad is lighter, cooler, and easier to tote around. I am more a reader than a writer, and I find it hard to slow down, take the notes, and keep them organized. Hence this search!


The key is to take the notes. Write things down. Don’t let a thought go by without writing it down, somewhere and somehow. Otherwise it is just a fart in the breeze. Write your note in a place you can find it later. An old friend who had written over 200 books told us “Just pretend you are a monkey throwing shit on a wall. Get it up there. You can clean it up later.” Point taken!