Personal Wikiesque Note Taking Mind Mappish Killer KDE App: BasKet

I’ve found one of my favourite applications ever. It’s called BasKet Note Pads. Here’s my problem, I’m always typing up little notes to myself and saving them as text files, all over my desktop, all over my hard drive. Sometimes I try to organize them, sometimes I send myself reminder e-mails, or I create calendar entries, or use a wiki. The wiki is good for certain things, especially in a collaborative environment, but for personal work it’s not quite right. And if my scattering of electronic notes is doing anything, it’s certainly not helping how I treat physical notes. The free KDE application, BasKet, is perfect for those jobs and more. Continue reading “Personal Wikiesque Note Taking Mind Mappish Killer KDE App: BasKet”

Mass Replicability – Part 2

The effort to perpetuate culture, knowledge, and whatever else we store on certain media is not the only reason we need to consider an imperative to copy. I read today that Michael Moore’s new film has spread through the peer-to-peer networks. This news doesn’t interest me so much as the point being made about why this may inadvertently have been beneficial to his efforts.

According to the article I linked above, Moore says “We took measures a few weeks ago to place a master copy of this film in Canada so if they did take our negative we would have a duplicate negative of this film in Canada.” He’s referring to his concern that the US government might confiscate the film since a portion of it was filmed in Cuba, which is essentially off-limits to American interests.

Moore is calling attention to the fate of the singleton copy. Obviously, without other instances of it, we’d have little to no chance to take-in what it portrays (one’s taste for whether that’s good or bad is not the point). Rather the politics and special interests that might prevent a copy from being exposed to the public or perpetuating itself are constantly at work as sister forces to the destruction brought by time.

As the article reports, Moore’s film (perhaps not by his own intention) survives this fate through the Internet’s means of replication. Digital media, with its special capacity for being copied and distributed (even through artificial boundaries) prevent the film’s disappearance. Once it’s free and the interest is there, the information gets propagated, surviving forces that would otherwise erode it in the waters of Lethe.

As an aside, my last post on mass replicability along with this one are carrying me toward a larger point. I’m slowly working on it. Actually I think it has something to do with Heidegger.

Mass Replicability

An unfinished thought on mass replicability (I may have just made up that word), here it is, I’m going to take note and continue later. Living in an age of digital media and means, do we have an imperative to make as many copies of the information, cultural artefacts, algorithms, etc., which we store in this medium, as possible? Must we mass replicate all our digitally stored leavings?

I’ve been chatting (err e-mailing) with my friend, Chris, about his concern with digital cultural amnesia. This came via his collection of old modem protocols and BBS doors. He brought up the point that people have to be able to remember how to access old data, even when we have the ability to emulate older software. This is a different problem from what I started this post with, but it is related so I’ll come back to it in a moment.

See, I’m thinking (and this is by no means a new problem) that even if digital media don’t really decay nicely like analog media but rather, just give their storage bounty an all-or-nothing effort, their saving grace may be the ease with which we can make replicas of whatever is digital. Perhaps if we focus like mad on making as many copies of every digital thing that we can, we’re making progress on extending the digital archival value for the future, in spite of its lack of graceful analog-like decay.

Even if that’s the case, then we still need, as my friend pointed out, people that can figure out how to access it or use it. I imagine there may be a day when you could hand someone a floppy disk or DVD ROM and the person will have no clue that it might even be a storage medium. Maybe at that point in time, computers as we think of them won’t even exist. All would be lost.

That’s a pretty bad case. Perhaps that isn’t a problem if we obsessively copy all digital media to every new medium, in as many instances as possible. But it doesn’t change the access issue. If our person in the future has our artefacts stored digitally, what’ll he do with them? He’ll need some understanding. We need to find ways to ensure that we also pass along our savoir-faire. And that gets me to thinking about free and open source software, where the code is accessible along with everything else. Perhaps one of the more important aspects of FOSS is what it may build for our future. In propagating the freedoms, such as those laid out in the GPL, maybe the most important significance is that it makes mass replicability possible. The necessary liberation for copying the digital is enabled, while the means to access what is copied are encouraged.

As I said, I’ll have to spend some time working on this thought. What makes copying pragmatically necessary? If we hope to preserve humanity’s wisdom and culture for our future at all, can we argue that we have an imperative to copy? Perhaps people that never delete, P2P, and “pirates” are the next bogman, Library of Alexandria, or papyrus.

Ulteo Revelation (coming someday)

Mr. Duval’s new project, Ulteo, has held my curiosity since it was announced many many months ago (I believe it was to be released in August, then October, then November, now…). It started as the news spread across the Web that Duval was no longer with Mandriva/Mandrake. An early Mandrake distribution was the first to really win me on Linux. I’d gone through a few others before it, which were a little like unmannered cave agoraphobes from a time before evolution (they all came up for light eventually). Perhaps this is all just OS nostalgia, I just want to comment after receiving the first Ulteo newsletter today.

My curiosity centers on what exactly it is that Ulteo will offer. How will it compel new interest from users of the existing distributions? From the message boards and the few leaked screenshots/web-based applications in the recent past, my impression is that it will be relatively consumer-oriented. It seems to have some sort of goal for making the functionality behind mobility and access to personal stuff, easy. I can imagine a number of ideas, perhaps pitting users’ own storage sources against their own loneliness and making them seamless with central storage source that replicates what is available in the home. I’m only imagining. And I read Ulteo has Ubuntu underpinnings.

A number of companies are developing or have developed Web OSes. I don’t know what is compelling about these systems. Those that I’ve tried feel like nifty gadgets but I don’t use the utility. I hope Ulteo is more, if for no other reason than to appreciate a good idea. It must be, the newsletters say so.

Why isn’t there more gossip about Ulteo? Maybe they needed to send a few more newsletters. I’ll watch the Ulteo site on the fifth and the sixth of this month, as that’s when they say they’ll unveil their full plans.

Odyssey of the Oracle Hero

A few years ago, during the dot-com era, I had an idea for a lyric poem. I thought, Larry Ellison, you have more money than you’ll ever use, why not pay me to shadow you for a year. And I’ll write a lyric poem about you.

In the old days Homer went around recording the deeds of heroes. That’s what mattered to society back then. But in our time, the dot-com era catapulted the CEO and business luminaries into the spotlight. I wouldn’t blame the frenzy that happened during that time for creating the situation. The drive for continual profit increase, as anyone who pays attention to the way investors respond to earnings calls, will notice, is dominant. It tints much of what takes place in the world. Hear me here, my purpose in this post is not to judge the value, positive or negative, that this has. I’m only noting the phenomenon.

With that in mind, the people that were once raised as the ultimate ideal to aspire to, heroes, I think have been traded for CEOs. While heroes’ deeds were sung at length, nowadays it’s the CEOs’ exploits which are repeated, discussed, pondered, marvelled at, mimicked, feared, and sometimes frowned upon. There were stories of the wild indulgence of some, the underhanded spying of others, and the bombastic beatings others gave competitors. I’ve read about them, and followed the stories.

Who knows, maybe this era is on the cusp of changing and the value given the CEO is shifting in the public’s perception. One might argue with fall-from-grace exemplified in the activities of the Enrons and HPs that that is indeed what is happening. Maybe other milieus of society are rising in the public mindset. Maybe this change is the ideal situation to write a damn good tragedy. Where would the hero be without some tragedy and misfortune and the whimsy of fate? Perhaps the new hero figure will still be business related except changes in business strategies in the software industry, such as those brought about by Free and open source software developments are modifying the locus of our focus (they’ll be called SABDFLs). :-)

Anyway it’s the beginning of November, which means Nanowrimo has begun and I’m once again participating. If Mr. Ellison wants his deeds immortalized in a lyric poem, now would be the time to call me.

Back from a Small Holiday

I suppose it’s obvious since I’m posting this, but I’m back to work after my holiday in the Maritimes. My wife and I covered a lot of ground in a week, especially through the inspiring landscapes of Fundy National Park (NB) and Cape Breton (NS). If you happen to travel there one interesting stop is the Fortress at Louisbourg. Another is King’s Landing. What are they? Two places that recreate the daily living conditions of people in th 1700s and 1800s (respectively). Museums of a sort but instead of presenting dead artifacts from the past, they make those artifacts present in a very active way.

My Zaurus C3200 Linux PDA

I thought that I really wanted something significantly smaller than my four-year old laptop but with a hard drive and more functionality than a standard PDA. After a few weeks of research and reading articles about different devices, I decided to buy a Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200. Strangely, these are not sold in North America so it required ordering it through the web, site unseen. Why choose the C3200? First, it comes preinstalled with Linux, which was one of my requirements. Second, it has a hard drive. I don’t understand why I can purchase miniscule MP3 player devices with 30GB hard drives, yet hardly any PDAs come with this type of storage. I also wasn’t keen on installing one of the Linux distros on a device that wasn’t necessarily designed by the manufacturer to support it. Even though I’ve got plenty of experience doing that on regular PCs, the specific requirements for a special, small PDA-like device felt like something I didn’t want to spend time trying to understand.

These requirements limited my search quite a bit. In fact, so many Linux-based PDA manufacturers seem to have disappeared over the years that I think there were really only three or four true contenders. I considered the following

Sharp’s Zaurus SL-C3200 (obviously) because it has a nice screen (though it wastes some space at the edges), decent hard drive, and space for memory cards and wireless/wired networking or other things. It runs Linux, (QT-based desktop interface), and seems to have a decent amount of community supporting its software.

Nokia’s 770, nice but it couldn’t fulfill my storage requirements and I read mixed reviews on its interface. Besides I’m used to KDE, so I assumed that a QT-based environment would be more my style.

The Pepper Pad, this seems like an exciting product but I think it should only cost about $600. I was suspicious about how much I’d like its style of keyboard and finally, as a relatively newer company, I had a hard time feeling comfortable about its future. Some of the non-conventional things they’re doing could have great results but if they disappear in a year or two I’d be left with something that I might be able to get much support for. In other words, maybe I didn’t look hard enough but I didn’t see much of a community around this product. Again, I might have been more willing to take a chance on this one had the price been more favourable to that kind of experimentation.

Archos PMA430–interesting, a media device plus. This seems like something designed as a media player but with a lot of the features of the Nokia product and the Sharp product. Unfortunately most of the reviews I read of this, made me leary about its functionality as the ultra-small computer/PDA I was seeking.

OQO 01+, this product just barely qualifies for my list (it’s more of a dream really). It’s the sort of device to elicit gross quantities of drool. Granted it’s the only one in this list that doesn’t come with Linux preinstalled (rather Windows) but it appears like it might welcome a reformat to Linux. I couldn’t realistically keep it on my list because it blasted through the high-end of my budget range. My impression is that the Zaurus is essentially a less powerful attempt at what the OQO provides at about a third the price.
So I was very happy with the little guy at first. Sharp did a mostly good job packing the functionality of a laptop computer into an ultra-small PDA style device. Its laptop form-to-PDA conversion form is a neat trick too (the screen swivels and auto-adjusts itself). The few gripes I had were that the wireless network card juts out into the space where you need to keep your hand in order to “thumb-type” and there was plenty of space to make the keys larger. The screen is quite crisp though it has unused edges that could have enlarged it. The battery seems able to last forever.

Installing software was not at all difficult (once you find some web sites that offer packages to install). Anyone familiar with Debian installation methods could easily handle the Zaurus. I don’t know why its office suite, Hancom Office, only supports Microsoft formats, it should also support OpenDocument Formats (ODF). Its built-in audio player was quite nice and useable but should have inherently support ogg formats in addition to MP3 too. Well this is my general complaint to all the software it comes with, lack of automatically supported formats. And all of this could have been easily solved, had the device been pre-setup with on-line package repositories, similar to Ubuntu or Linspire’s offerings. In fact, it seems like its installation app has all the fixings needed to do just that, but I couldn’t locate any such repository on-line.

I was able to work around the above criticisms, I don’t think they should be seen as condeming in any way, most are easily solved or are not really huge shortcomings so much as nice-to-have things. However, I found that perhaps this sort of device simply wasn’t the right choice for my needs. I essentially wanted a laptop computer that was easy to carry around anywhere. Even though laptops are supposed to be portable, the one I have is big and heavy and I hate carrying lots of baggage.

On the other hand, I don’t like carrying small devices for specific functions. I don’t really want a separate little PDA for contact and calendar information. I don’t want a separate audio player. Though the screen is sharp, I don’t like trying to read on such a small viewable area. I type fast, so the keyboard, although better than trying to fiddle with handwriting recognition, felt too slow for me. Thus the C3200, although it accommodates so much, ultimately wasn’t the right choice for me. I suppose a better choice for my needs would just be a cheap but very (perhaps screen size around 13″) laptop. And this leaves me to wonder how the market will treat the ultra-portable origami-style devices that have been making the rounds in the recent past.

This will be my last post here for a week. I’m heading off on a road trip from Montreal, to Fredericton, to Shediac, to Halifax, to Cape Breton, and beyond…

Life, Staring Storage

Can we clearly see it all from one spot? In a Wired column, Momus, discusses his pursuit of the absense of western-style storage living. He mentions a typical Tokyo apartment style, in which the center of the room is relatively sparse (object-wise) but the outer edges contain the information-storage of the inhabitants–things like closets of clothes, dishes, etc. The western style on the other hand, I suppose is more likely to be arranged such that objects are placed throughout the living space and the center of a given room may not be relatively clear for, as Momus puts it, “processing”.

This all caught my interest as my home office has been a source of frustration for me lately. It’s small and in spite of my best efforts to adorn it with only a few of the totems I like to have near me while working on my creative endeavours, I think it’s impacting my senses too much, preventing the all-out focus I like to pursue. I’ve been feeling like the key to fixing all that is its arrangement. While I typically dislike metaphors that set human being to computer terminology, this one was compelling. It recalls the expression “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.”

I almost achieved this once. A number of years back, when I moved from the West coast of the US, to the East of Canada, I got rid of most of my posessions and brought only what I could fit in a small VW hatchback. About 70 percent of that consisted of books and CDs. Momus notes the satisfaction this sort of excercise can bring but he also mentions how now, often times, a digital photograph is just as satisfying as the object itself.

Once in a while I get caught up, sometimes obsessively, trying to convert physical objects I own into digital representations so that I can store them on a hard drive and let go of the physical object. Or is that the reason? Maybe I’m just looking for an additional way to preserve them. Maybe their digitization is simply another layer of storage to deal with.

I mentioned my books. Momus’s article adresses books too (in an important way, though differently from what I’m about to say). I know other people for whom maintaining a physical library is very important, sometimes sacred (if you’re a literary sort). I like seeing the books I’ve read stacked around me. I like seeing the ones I intend to read stacked and ready too. Why? Most are not reference books and I rarely go back to them to look up specific passages. I don’t often reread books but I struggle to part with them. I do however, sometimes sit and stare at their spines. Looking from title to title, author to author. I remember what they were about and remember the characters that I lived with while reading them. I remember other things happening in my life during that time. This is in-sight, in-mind. Sometimes it inspires a new path of thinking about something or provokes a creative path. I don’t think this works the same with information stored digitally–where the ready-to-hand is not ready unless we can first envision it as such (onus: us). I suppose the tricky part is figuring out which objects need regular readiness as opposed to those that may be hidden away, lying in wait, for my need.

E-mail Replacement Idea

In a previous post, I briefly commented on blogs as an e-mail replacement. It was an off-the-cuff remark but I started thinking about it more. Perhaps it could end spam?

This afternoon one of my colleagues came by my desk and commented on the RSS reader I had open. She wondered if it was a nice looking skin for Outlook (it wasn’t, but it did look nice because the reader was running on my Linux box rather than Windows). But the comment struck me because at first glance the RSS reader does look like essentially the same thing as an e-mail application. Repeat, what if we all begin blogging instead of e-mailing?

It takes no effort to imagine everyone having a blog and thus RSS feed. Rather than send response e-mails back and forth in conversation, trackbacks could accomplish the job. You’d only add a feed to your reader if it was someone you wanted to communicate with (trackback with). Instead of e-mail addresses, we’d have feed subscriptions.

The reverse could be true as well, you could flag categories or posts within your feed as private or visible only to particular acquaintances (friends, colleagues, etc.) perhaps using xfn features or some kind of social networking system. Conversations and subjects could be tracked by tagging them instead of creating an e-mail folder fungal multiplication horror.

Web sites already exist that let people aggregate feeds into custom pages, so that would take care of replacing web-based e-mail. A number of desktop applications are interfaces for blog posting without logging into the blog’s web interface. Perhaps those tools could be combined with the readers. Finally, instead of sending an e-mail, everyone’d just post to their blogs.

What is appealing about this idea? Unless I’m missing something, It seems like a rather easy way to eradicate spam and for some unfortunate OS users, decrease other contagions (unless of course you choose to subscribe to a spammer’s feed). The trick is, I think, getting enough people to blog in order to change the dominant communication method from e-mailing to blogging.