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Living Room / Wikis, word processors, and the writing process
« on: July 30, 2008, 11:18 PM »
Through the miracle of Firefox's Readeroo extension [1] (which I've set to display to-be-read links at random) I finally got around to reading the DC discussion in the General Software area from Feb-08 on the above topic. [2] I was going to post this reply there, but the forum software suggested starting a new topic instead.

The OP opined that he didn't get wikis (though i think he was trying Wikidpad) and he was just looking for a way to draft and organize reports and then output them into a straightforward linear document. He was wondering what he was missing about wikis that made them good for this purpose. Mouser and others replied that wikis really made sense when there were multiple contributors/editors and that a simple word processor worked fine, though another poster did use Wikidpad successfully for writing a report.

A few disconnected thoughts bubbled to mind when I read the post:
  • Separating technology from the creation process is always a good thing, until the technology is as simple for you to use as a pencil. We have a guy at work who's so skilled at Photoshop, the interface is almost invisible to him. Msft Word is like that for me, simply because I've been using it since the mid-90s. But if you're wrestling with the technology while you're sketching out ideas, you will lose.
  • I have also not "gotten" wikis, though I think they're awfully simple technology and useful for group projects. Our sysadmin uses a Twiki to store all the little procedures and problems he solves, and he's built up a good store of info so that it's become valuable to him. My problem is that I could put in the info easily enough, but I'd forget the name of a related page, or I'd forget I'd started a similar page 2 months ago, and so it never proved terribly useful to me. I would spend so much time maintaining the wiki so that I could browse my holdings, that the value would not repay the effort. (I used both Pbwiki and, on my Clie, Notestudio, and auditioned other programs.) One of my problems was that I was trying to use the wikis as universal inboxes and I overloaded myself with stuff.
  • Merlin Mann recommends, in the productivity arena, that any tool you use should stop just short of being fun to play with. I would extend that to other types of software. I love playing with wikis but found myself playing with them more than using them.
  • The problem the OP described was more nearly a problem of process rather than software, I think. A rather simple writing algorithm that is technology-neutral would be "collect, connect, correct." If you're writing something, just write stuff down as it comes to you, then go back later and group like paragraphs together, and then start revising, and repeat the sequence as needed. Just because you read the text linearly doesn't mean you have to write it that way. And you can use this approach whether you're writing by hand, with a word processor, index cards, a wiki, whatever. Although I'm not a programmer, I don't think you start with line 1 and write straight through to line 1000; you probably build up routines and functions, and the tying it all together happens later in the process. Very few creative products, even boring old reports for work, fall out whole cloth; they're assembled.
  • Following on that point: there's a book called Thinking on Paper [5] that describes a very sane process for student writers that I think anyone could benefit from. I used that book's method to create a speech and documented my progress using the system [3]; the PDF I created as a handout that summarizes the book's approach is here [4], along with other writing tips I cadged from here and]
This has been a very off-topic post but I hope some may find it useful. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to make the URLs inline with the text.



Jeff Atwood at the Coding Horror blog (in the linked posts below) advocates doing away with anti-virus, not running as administrator, and using virtual machines. (I don't know about Sandboxie, but the Altiris SVS wouldn't be a good solution for this scenario.)

Coding Horror: Choosing Anti-Anti-Virus Software

Coding Horror: Trojans, Rootkits, and the Culture of Fear

Living Room / Re: All your info in one place
« on: September 29, 2007, 09:38 AM »
Ah, one of my long-time El Dorados: the one repository that will hold them all... :)

I'm almost defaulting these days to gmail holding most of my stuff. (God forbid they should lock me out of my email one day, or a server goes down, or...) I have my home pc, a work pc, and will soon have a laptop. I'm not interested in synchronizing bookmarks, desktops, etc. among them. (And I can't at work, because of a locked-down PC.) So gmail/delicious/google bookmarks tend to be the hubs of my information empire. (I use google bookmarks for short-term projects.) I can also email Google Reader posts to my gmail account if I want to store them for reference (and really, how often do we go back to refer to these things? But that's another post...)

I'm wondering if a USB drive based solution may work. (I recently ordered this ( from Amazon mainly because the price looked good, so I may use it to test this. ) (Although I have a history of forgetting to pull the thumbdrive from the PC at the end of the day and am then left without it--hence the elegance of an online solution.)

At home, I have a Notetab Pro outline file called "batf" (big-assed text file) (not an original name; got it off of one of the memes circulating last year on keeping your life inside one big text file). At home, this holds all the info I suck up regarding GTD, my web site settings, logs of troubleshooting the home network, etc. Most of this I have no need to access at work. It looks and operates somewhat like Treepad and the other tree-based info organizers. But it's plain-text, all in one file, so could be retrievable and viewable in other apps.

I think we're really talking about a logbook (see my delicious links on this topic:, especially the link to "Electronic Logbook") and so categorizing in that case isn't an issue. You really just need to enter a date/time (because natural memory may help you triangulate on when you logged  the information) and then the info. The advantage of electronic being you can search on it later. I used a PBWiki for this for awhile, but am thinking of installing an open-source wiki solution on my web site. (For an analog logbook, say a Moleskine or something, just leave a few pages at the end to create an index, either thematic or date-based, and so you can retireve the info a little faster when you need it.)

Google Notebook is also an excellent place to store squibs and snippets of info. That mounting pile o' stuff is out of your face until you need to search for it. But it's more seamless for web-based info than for text files, Word docs, PDFs, and such.

My fear of putting everything onto my USB is that I'd forget to back up the file then I'd lose the drive and then my empire would topple.  ;D But then if I feel that way, I've got way bigger problems than where to store my info...


Living Room / Re: Acceptable expletives
« on: September 01, 2007, 10:35 PM »
Oh, and the other one I use in emails at work is "Botheration."

Living Room / Re: Acceptable expletives
« on: September 01, 2007, 10:34 PM »
WC Fields had several good ones: "Godfrey Daniels!" and "mother of pearl" and "Beelzebub!" and "Shadrach and Abednego!"

Other nice ones: chitlins! sugar! God Bless America! cheese and crackers!

And from the Simpsons, my favorite curse is from Apu: "Krishna H. Vishnu!"

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