My favorite notetaking apps

C.J. Chilvers wrote about the pros and cons of popular notetaking tools. Out of the four he features—Apple Notes, Evernote, Ulysses, and Bear—I have used two previously, and none currently. So, having already examined my favored podcasts and newsletters, here’s a look at the tools I do use and why I use them.

Paper

The once and future king of all notetaking apps. I keep a plain, pocket-sized Moleskine in my backpack for odds and ends, a larger journal as a daily diary and scrapbook (previously a Moleskine classic hardcover and currently a Zequenz 360), and a good ol’ composition notebook for my filmlog.

WorkFlowy

Dynamic, lightweight list-making with blessed few bells and whistles. Perfect for hierarchical thinking, tasks, and anything else you can put into a list. It’s built for marking tasks complete, but I use it mostly as an archive for reference, split between Work and Personal. Plus a To Do list at top for quick capture of tasks.

Simplenote

Good for taking quick notes in plain text. I often use it for first drafts of blog posts, taking book notes, and whatever else I need a basic text editor for. Helpful when trying to remove formatting from text you want to paste cleanly elsewhere—”text laundering” as I call it. Clean, simple, works well on the web and mobile.

Google Drive

For when Simplenote isn’t enough. Good for collaboration and as a document repository. Among other things my Logbook spreadsheet is there, as are lots of work-related docs, random files shared with my wife, my archive of book reviews, and my Book Notes doc filled with (at present) 121 single-spaced pages of notes and quotes from 108 books.

Apple Reminders

Used mostly for sharing shopping lists with my wife, because it’s easy to regenerate lists from completed items. Unfortunately it doesn’t sync well between devices without WiFi, which is a bummer when we’re out shopping.

Google Calendar

Google, don’t you ever get rid of Calendar. I mean it. Some former Google products had it coming, but you’re gonna ride or die with Gmail and Calendar, ya hear?

Dropbox

Essential for quick and easy file backup. Through referrals and other incentives over the years I’ve accumulated 5.63 GB in free storage on top of the 2 GB default. I’m using over 95% of it.

DuckDuckGo to Apple?

From Macworld: Apple should buy DuckDuckGo and make it into Apple Search:

Yeah, Apple could start from scratch in building its own search engine, but why? Buying DuckDuckGo would give Apple several years’ head start on building core search technology and a huge index of the whole web along with a talented team of engineers that share Apple’s privacy priorities.

And buying DuckDuckGo is the fastest and likely most economical means of bootstrapping a hypothetical Apple Search. It would even be good for DuckDuckGo fans, as long as Apple keeps it available on the web and to other web browsers, not just to Apple device users. It would mean at least an order of magnitude more users and a huge boost in development resources (both money and talent), from a company that has the exact same privacy stance as DuckDuckGo. It’s a win-win.

Hadn’t thought about this possibility until reading this article, but it makes sense to me. As much as I enjoy DuckDuckGo’s privacy features and indie web ethos, Apple is the only company that could do right by it and its many users. (And Apple Search is just a better name, let’s be honest.)

Regardless of its future, try out DuckDuckGo if you believe in an open web. It’s not quite as robust and sleek as Google, but it’s certainly good enough for most things. And while you’re at it, use Firefox, don’t use Facebook, and start a blog.

Why I love Kanopy, Hum, and System Information

Want to give some love to three services I’ve enjoyed lately:

Kanopy

Kanopy is a free streaming service available through your public library. (If it isn’t, ask them to get it!) Abundant with titles from A24, The Criterion Collection, and other high-quality providers, it’s rife with a delightful array of foreign films, indies, and documentaries to fill the FilmStruck-shaped hole in the hearts of cinephiles. My watchlist expanded pretty quickly once I signed up, much of it classics and Criterion titles I’ve been meaning to watch and want to get to before my wife gives birth. In the last few weeks I’ve watched Three Days of the Condor, The Seventh Seal, 48 Hrs., Ugetsu, Battleship Potemkin, and The Wages of Fear, with more on the horizon. Get thee to Kanopy!

Hum

hum-songs

I’ve been using Hum for a lot longer than Kanopy, but only recently realized how much I love it. It’s the perfect songwriting app. Super easy to quickly record song ideas, gather lyrics, and add helpful metadata. Beautifully made and a joy to use, though I really ought to use it more. Since I recently released the songs that comprised my 20s, I’m excited to see what will become of the song ideas currently residing in Hum.

System Information on Mac

I rediscovered this function while trying to clean out some disk space on my wife’s MacBook Pro and make it run faster. Previously I used Disk Doctor for this job; it’s a fine app that costs $2.99, but System Information is built-in and provides a more granular view of your files. It also makes deleting them super easy and satisfying. It’s a bit hidden, but well worth the hunt. If you’re a file hoarder or haven’t optimized your Mac in a while, you’ll be shocked by how much cruft builds up. Also by how large iOS backups are! (Seriously, my wife’s storage space more than doubled after I deleted those.)

Browse eternal, shiny and not Chrome

Last month I got fed up with the constant whirring of my MacBook Pro’s fan, and its consistent slowness generally, so I tried a few things to try to improve it.

One was quitting iTunes when I wasn’t using it, and the other was quitting Chrome and using Firefox instead. I don’t know if only one or both of these things made the difference, but the whirring stopped immediately and the computer sped up significantly.

I’ve been a dedicated Chrome user since it was released 10 years ago. Initially I liked its clean interface and single-bar searching. Since I was already a dedicated Gmail and Google Calendar user, it just made sense. (Anything to avoid Internet Explorer.)

But based on this experience, there’s really no reason for me to go back to Chrome. Its privacy concerns alone warrant pursuing other options, though I’m still happy to use Gmail, Calendar, and Google Drive because at least they provide consistent and practical service without chewing up my CPU.

(Post title for the Mad Max: Fury Road fans out there.)

My home screen

I’m always intrigued by other people’s smartphone home screens. Which apps make the dock? How is everything organized, if at all? Do they have 10,000+ unread emails like a crazy person?

Here’s mine for you to judge:

Messages, Podcasts, Google Maps, Safari, and WordPress are probably the most used. Safari used to be in the dock until I decided I was using it too much. You’ll notice no app badges because I turned all of them off (except Messages and Phone). Snapchat is the only social media app I have, for the sole purpose of seeing pictures of my nephew. And I use the black background for the lock screen and home screen to make the phone as boring as possible.

1946 Olympia typewriter vs. 2012 iPad – who ya got?

Matt Thomas, via Submitted For Your Perusal, spotlights an interesting contrast between two New York Times stories in the same week.

Exhibit #1, from a brief feature on Danielle Steel:

After all these years, Steel continues to use the same 1946 Olympia typewriter she bought used when working on her first book. “I am utterly, totally and faithfully in love with my typewriter,” she says. “I think I paid $20 for it. Excellent investment! And by now, we’re old friends.”

Exhibit #2, from a John Herrman’s essay What I Learned from Watching My iPad’s Slow Death:

Above all, my old iPad has revealed itself as a cursed object of a modern sort. It wears out without wearing. It breaks down without breaking. And it will be left for dead before it dies.

A machine that’s over 70 years old (!) is still performing exactly as it did the year after World War II ended, and another machine that’s not even 7 years old is now a digital dotard. An iPad of course can do far more things than a typewriter. But if it can only do those things for the length of two presidential terms, tops, is it truly worth the investment?

My 1970 Hermes 3000 originally sold for $129.50, according to the sticker still on its body. That’s about $845 in 2017 dollars, which would get you an iPad Pro or basic laptop today. I bought it last year for $30 at an antique store. It’s in seemingly mint condition all these years later, and I can’t wait to see what words it will produce—from me and any future owners. If the iPad’s “slow death” takes place after only a few years, the death of this Hermes—perish the thought—will be downright glacial.

Yet what Herrman concludes about a tablet is also true of a typewriter: “It will still be a wonder of industrial design and a technological marvel, right up until the moment it is destroyed for scrap.”

Which machine’s scraps, however, can actually be turned into something beautiful? Advantage typewriters.

Steve Jobs Lives

This 1987 concept video from Apple predicts not only the iPad and all of its capabilities, but also Siri, the speech-activated personal assistant that will be ubiquitous technology in a few years given how Apple products usually work. (H/T to Andrew Sullivan for the video)

Andy Baio finds this amazing:

Based on the dates mentioned in the Knowledge Navigator video, it takes place on September 16, 2011. The date on the professor’s calendar is September 16, and he’s looking for a 2006 paper written “about five years ago,” setting the year as 2011. And this morning, at the iPhone keynote, Apple announced Siri, a natural language-based voice assistant, would be built into iOS 5 and a core part of the new iPhone 4S.

So, 24 years ago, Apple predicted a complex natural-language voice assistant built into a touchscreen Apple device, and was less than a month off.

I never had the emotional attachment to Steve Jobs as many others around the web have been describing, but I do use his products. The iPhone, Macbook laptop, and the iPod seem so ordinary now, but 24 years ago who could have predicted how they would change the world as they did? I suppose that’s the best compliment you can give a technology geek like Jobs – that what he did changed the world for the better.