Software and Hardware

Now that Apple has completed migrating its laptops to Intel chips, I really want to get a new one; I really want to replace my aging (in computer-age terms, i.e. it is 2 1/2 years old) 12″ PowerBook with a new 13″ MacBook… Except for one thing. My PowerBook weighs 4.3 lbs, which is way too heavy. The new MacBook — the lightest and most compact Mac laptop model, just announced — weighs 5.2 lbs, it is almost a full pound heavier. If I got one, and took it around with me, it would break my back! I really want Apple to introduce a new, lightweight subnotebook, 3 lbs or less, something that I could carry about with me everywhere.

The laptop — like the Treo (phone/PDA), the iPod, and the digital camera; or for that matter, like my eyeglasses — is really part of my body.These are all prostheses that augment my ability to act in and with the world, to affect and be affected, as Spinoza would say, they are parts of my distributed cognitive (and affective) network, as Andy Clark would say. So these ergonomic considerations are really important; they are equally as important as, and should indeed be considered a part of, the design aesthetics that Steve Jobs so (justifiably, in other respects) vaunts himself on being concerned with. Why can’t Apple come out with something comparable to the 1.9 lb Sony Vaio, which is a beautiful and reasonably high-powered machine (even if not quite as beautiful as Apple’s laptops), whose only major defect is that it runs Windows instead of the Mac OS?

Since I am harping on my techno commodity fetish obsessions — all I want to do is buy! buy! buy!, but the product has to be just right, and that just-rightness includes a brand or corporate identification — let me ask an open question about software. I am looking for some sort of Mac OS program that I could use as a sort of database of writing fragments. That is to say, a program that just connects short notes I write, snippets of questions or half-formed paragraphs, i.e. text fragments from a few lines to a few paragraphs in length, together with a bunch of web and article citations on various subjects — all this to collect material that I could use as raw material for later or more concerted writing.

I already have a fine program, Yojimbo, that I use to collect miscellaneous web snippets, texts, images, links, and so on (sometimes I just keep the urls for pages I have found interesting; other times I keep the entire contents of the web page). But here I am looking for something different, something that I would use mostly for text fragments I write myself. So being able to handle formats other than plain text wouldn’t be that important. (As long as I can hyperlink to bibliography sources, to images, etc., I wouldn’t need them in the database itself). I need something that is not too hierarchically organized (I cannot group these fragments into categories and subcategories, which is why certain programs I’ve tried, like Circus Ponies Notebook, aren’t quite right for me), but that allows for powerful searching. I’d like to be able to associate each fragment or entry with an unlimited number of metadata tags, and be able to search both by those and by full text content. It would be even better if the program could interpret LaTeX and BibTeX, since most of my entries would be in this format

Has anyone reading this tried either DevonThink or TAO, and are either of these along the lines of what I am looking for? Or can anyone recommend another program, that would be more suitable for my needs? Thanks…

9 Responses to “Software and Hardware”

  1. Steven Johnson wrote a good essay on DevonThink a while back, for the Times I think. Sounds like it does what you want and he’s definitely still using the software a year past that article which is a good sign.

    I grabbing one of those Macbooks btw, looks like Johnson just did. My laptop is closing in on 4 years old though… I’d say there is a decent chance of a MacBook Nano dropping sometime soon, I can’t imagine Apple letting that market slide away now that they are on Intel chips.

  2. Steve,

    Have you tried VoodooPad?
    I have not used it but it looks like it does some of the things you are asking for.

    My understanding is that it works likes a desktop wiki.

    Also, you may want to consider some sort of wiki package online, with all your snippets hosted. The advantage here being that it is distributed and not tied to one client machine (that can fail or get stolen). You can even add autenthentication requirements so that nobody else can view the text. There is a wordpress plugin for this kind of thing. Here is the link: Angsuman’s Authenticated WordPress Plugin – Password Protection for Your WordPress Blog.

    Also, you might try looking for a wiki like plugin and use it with a private blog.

    And yes I agree, Apple should release a subnotebook. Maybe someday they will come out with a tablet like origami like device, but done right. For me the 15″ powerbook is the perfect form factor but could be lighter for sure.


  3. Stuart says:

    Voodoo Pad is great. I use it for all my writing projects these days because its so free form. It’s not as powerful with metadata tagging as it COULD be, but it does have spotlight integration. Not sure about Latex either but Gus is a pretty nice developer and may be able ot help you get some latex interpreters set up for it.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations. I will try out both DevonThink and VoodooPad, and see how they meet my needs.

    The more I read about the new MacBook, the more it seems that it is just the machine I want, in all respects except weight. I may have to just break down and buy it anyway, despite the cost to my back. But maybe I will wait until the release of Leopard before I get a new machine…

    Abe, I expect you are right that Steve Jobs will eventually address the “nano” or sublaptop market. But I worry that the product might leave aside too much of what I want in a Mac… meaning that I will have to have two machines, one tied to my desk and one to carry around everywhere. And also that a Mac ultralight will probably include pen-entry and touch-screen technologies, for which Apple has filed a number of patents in the last few years, and which I don’t really want. I vastly prefer typing on a keyboard, and manipulating a touchpad, to any of that stuff. I’d just like it all in a lighter package.

  5. Hi Steve,

    I just learned about Tiddly Wiki. Sounds like an interesting project and purhaps fairly useful.

    You could probably get this to run locally on your laptop. Offers many of the features of a wiki but doesn’t require running server side code. All the logic is stored within a single html page. Really interesting concept actually. Probably worth playing around with at least.

  6. Uwe Nestmann says:

    Concerning hardware: I could not agree more. For my purposes, Apple could easily leave out the DVD/CD drive, which would save space and weight. And then replace the harddisk by a flash drive …

    Concerning software: try Mori
    Except for LaTeX, it should have all you want …

    — Uwe

  7. doug says:

    I’m curious, after checking the suggestions out (particularly devonthink and voodoo pad) what did you do?

  8. Steven Shaviro says:

    I got DevonThink, which pretty much does what I want, in terms of arranging and collating fragments of text and other things, particularly ones which I am using in my own writing.

    But it’s gotten complicated again because, in my quest for a lightweight laptop, I got hold of a Sony Vaio subnotebook (2 1/2 lbs total weight), erased Windows from the hard drive, and installed Ubuntu Linux, which has been working quite well for me despite some difficulties. (I really should write a bit more about that at some point).

  9. Dan says:

    Did you ever try One Note – granted it’s a Microsoft product, but I think it’s great. You can also just run a wiki site on your laptop as an internal only site.

    FYI, I work at MS, and am thinking of quiting and starting a business. I started reading about Joseph Schumperter – and wound up on your site. I’d really like to know how you link pop music and economics…

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