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ATPM 12.06
June 2006





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I have been a Mac user for just over 18 months now, after years of fighting Windows each day. I am not sure why I resisted so long; it must be my persistent nature! The viruses and spyware won in the end. I could never go back now. My Mac just works, something I was so unused to with my PC and the network of 300 of them that I used to support. As soon as I got the Mac PowerBook, I started to read the Mac magazines, subscribing to Macworld eventually. The subscription has run out now, and I have just found ATPM. It looks like ATPM is just another reason not to renew my subscription to Macworld. Thank you for all of your hard work, guys.

—Andy Hayes

Switching to Intel

I have been a Apple addict from my Apple IIe to my 17″ G4 PowerBook. I would love to move up to the new MacBook Pro but probably will have difficulty getting approval. I have justified my previous purchases of Macs in a PC-only work environment because of the large library of molecular analysis applications that I purchased over the years or have accumulated from open-source suppliers. The cost of upgrading to (or sometimes even finding) the PC version was always significantly more than the difference between the Mac and the PC. That is, until now. Someone should sponsor a contest for adapting Classic to run on the new Intel-based Macs so that we can continue to run some of the old classics. Anyone have a solution?

—Dr. Lester M. Shulman

Perhaps the SheepShaver emulator will help you.

—Michael Tsai

Outlining Workflows and ConceptDraw

Interesting and comprehensive review. I have been an outlining freak ever since KAMAS, OutThink, and MindWrite (remember them?).

I now use a combination of Tinderbox and NovaMind. If I want to start with built-in branching structure and visuals right off the bat, I start with NovaMind, export it to OPML, then import the OPML into Tinderbox. I lose the visuals in the import, but I can import screenshots of the NovaMind structures as JPEG notes into Tinderbox.

I also have a Tinderbox brainstorming template from which I open a new file. After adding a bunch of notes, I organize it in Map View, export it as a text file or HTML file, import it into OmniOutliner to convert it to OPML, then open the OPML file in NovaMind. I can reorganize the Tinderbox map many times, resulting in different NovaMind maps for the same notes. I have tried unsuccessfully to export Tinderbox directly to OPML according to their wiki, but I have never been able to make this work. A high-functioning Tinderbox OPML export template, with finishing touches in NovaMind, would be a great boon to mankind.

—Jonathan D. Leavitt

• • •

I recently discovered your column and today finished reading every single one from the archive. Just wanted to thank you for the wonderful work and hope you keep writing them. In one of the earlier columns you suggested: “For instance, should we look at little known outliners and use of unexpected applications (like Mailsmith) as outliners?” I would very much appreciate this, as it focuses on the concept of outlining rather than on application review.

By the way, if you are from Germany you can get a free version of ConceptDraw Mindmap 3.5 in the MacLife magazine of this month. I prefer OmniOutliner and DEVONthink.


Synchronizing Windows Mobile Devices

I’ve tried (and tried, and tried…) to get my Windows Mobile devices to synchronize with my Mac. In frustration, partly with the devices (it is Windows and does crash) and partly with the lack of synchronization, I recently started using my Tungsten T3 again. Then I went out and bought (on trial) a Blackberry.

I have PocketMac synchronization working reasonably well. It’s not as good as the Mark/Space tool with Palm OS, but it’s workable. It isn’t trivial nor for the faint of heart.

I really want a convergent device, and the Blackberry is the closest I’ve come to date. I should have looked at them before, but didn’t.

—Dave Thompson

I’m fortunate that I don’t need to synchronize the device right now, because the calendar function isn’t that important right now. But it will be once I have a Real Job, instead of just being a college student. Hopefully either Mark/Space or PocketMac will support WM5 by the end of the summer.

My experience—after buying my Axim—is that it’s a fantastic way to surf the Internet from my living room couch, or to use Skype, but it’s a terrible multipurpose device, especially without a QWERTY keyboard.

So far, I think I’m going to avoid a Blackberry: the forthcoming Treo 700p will have unlimited EV-DO service for $25-$40 a month plus voice, which is a lot more multipurpose than just unlimited e-mail, and there are already Palm OS push–e-mail solutions. Plus, it’ll sync.

Good luck with your Blackberry! I’m still open to the idea.

—Wes Meltzer

iPod 5G

I love my 5G, but I humbly offer these comments. If you will be using your iPod to transfer photos from a digital camera, by all means get the larger unit. The bigger battery in it is better-suited to transferring photos.

I have a 1 GB SD card, and by the time all the photos transfer to my 30 GB iPod the battery is nearly drained. (This for a battery in perfect condition. I shudder to think what will happen when the battery is less than perfect.) As of now, there is no pass-through dock connector that will allow you to transfer photos whilst powered from a wall outlet. Also, iPods do not preflight memory cards, so any transfer from a card is a complete transfer of everything on the card—every time.

—Randy B.

• • •

I finally got a 30 GB 5G iPod in March. I was a little skeptical about watching video on a 2.5″ screen, but now I’m hooked. I keep 25 full length movies and I’m able to copy movies from my home DVD collection using Handbrake to make small 320 × 144 500 MB files the play well on the New iPod. I also download Suicide Girls and Battlestar Galactica from iTunes. I also have 1,500 songs onboard.

This device needs at least a 3.5″ screen and improved battery life in the next generation of the coolest player on the planet.

—Grover Watson

SmartBoard USB5000

Or just remember to switch the Command and Option keys when starting up with the Microsoft keyboards. The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 that I started using two weeks ago is fantastic. I just wish they would give you replacement keys to replace the Start and Alt keys on the keyboard with Mac equivalents (yeah right, dream on).

Microsoft has made great keyboards and mice at reasonable prices for years.

—Eytan Bernet

PC and Mac Networking

Firstly, although I’ve assiduously read through previous Q&As to make sure I’m not troubling you with a question that’s already been asked, I might have missed it, so apologies if so!

Secondly, the questions themselves: I’ve joined the dark side, and just bought a PC to supplement the iBook that I share with my fiancée. I crudely unplugged the broadband modem cable from the Mac, and plugged it into the PC—with no configuring at all, it worked just fine. Unfortunately, this patented unplug-and-plug technique did not work in reverse, and now my wedding is in jeopardy as my better half can’t access the Internet from the Mac. (We keep getting a “Specified server cannot be found” error message.) Any ideas what might be causing this, and whether it might interfere with my plan to set up a router to avoid having to unplug/replug all the time?

Many, many thanks in advance—remember: there’s a marriage at stake here!

—Al Goodwin

Many—though not all—cable modems or DSL modems tend to lock on to the MAC address of whatever is connected to the Ethernet jack. Consequently if you unplug from the modem and plug in a new machine, typically the modem will not recognize the new machine because it has a different MAC address. Usually the solution is to power down the modem, plug it into the machine you wish to use, and power it back up so you reset the MAC address it is assigned to. This is one of several reasons why a router makes life easier. It shows the same MAC address (its own—or if you want, most routers these days can present a MAC address you specify) to the cable modem regardless of what is then plugged into the router. It’s one of the ways in which it facilitates using multiple machines on one broadband connection. Get a router and save your marriage.

—Evan Trent


I’ve tried out plenty of programs in the last year or so and presently I’m settled on DEVONnote (I may upgrade to DEVONthink Pro, but DN does the job for now). One of the programs I tested briefly was Boswell, and I loved the thinking behind the program—namely the reliance on metadata for archiving/finding files, as opposed to using a hierarchy of folders. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to be the main principle behind Boswell.

Anyway, I almost registered until it occurred to me that I could more or less replicate this system in DEVONnote. (I have one single ‘archive’ folder for all my writings, with no subgroups. Each file has its own metadata—I add keywords to the ‘Comments’ pane and assign a color label too. By searching ‘Comments’ I can retrieve any file, or grouping of files, in an instant. I use folders only as workspaces for current projects. When I’m done with a project, all the files get dumped into the archive. If I want to retrieve them all again, I simply search ‘Comments’ for the keyword(s) then throw the results back in a temporary folder…you get the drift.) The point is, I’m finding it really liberating to have done away with my old complicated hierarchy of folders; everything now is in one place, and it is easier than ever to retrieve files if I need them.

On to my question…

What essentially is the difference between my setup and the idea behind Boswell? Surely any program that is good at handling metadata can work along the same lines as Boswell? Obviously there are plenty of differences between the way DEVONthink and Boswell work, but it seems to me that DEVONthink can be bent to do what Boswell does, plus a whole lot more (if you need it). Or am I missing something important about Boswell? (Thanks for the great review, by the way.)

—Jim Alexander

• • •

Disclaimer: I am an avid user of Boswell. The application fits with my personal philosophy of document storage in a nearly perfect manner. So add that as salt.

You ask some good questions. When I first came across Boswell, I almost immediately shunned it. The interface put me off, frankly. This was back when it was in its version 3 cycle. A while later, I saw that it had gone through a new version, and I had grown a bit as far as my information needs went, so I decided to give it another try. It took a while to understand the philosophies, but once it all clicked, I bought it immediately and have been using it ever since.

My initial response, before the “click,” was precisely what you said: Hey, I can just emulate Boswell using Tinderbox (which I already own). A reasonable assumption, after-all, as Tinderbox is uniquely outfitted to create systems tailored to your way of thought. However, it is not actually possible without a lot of run-around, because Boswell does a lot of things which are unusual in the digital information management world. By themselves, they are little, and can be sometimes ignored, but all together they create a symphony of philosophy that no other application I’ve come across possesses.

Let’s look at one fundamental problem with your setup (and perhaps you have even discovered this by now). DEVONthink is very heavily invested in group hierarchies. It relies upon them to establish connections between word pairing structures in your documents. In other words, if you have 15 documents on fruit, five of which are about apples, it would help DTP to group those five documents into an Apple sub-group. If you put every single document into one group, then you are losing a very vital part of the DTP’s AI equation, and given that this is DTP’s primary asset, you are losing quite a bit to do that.

The fundamental problem I ran into is that there is no analogue for Boswell’s Notebook idea. This is the same for DEVONthink. There is a way, using AppleScript and the comments field, to hack together “smart groups,” in DTP. These operate as an extremely limited version of what Tinderbox can do with Agents. But while the searching mechanism is vastly superior in TB, both produce nearly identical results. They contain a fully dynamic alias/replicant set based on the results of the search. TB does this continually in the background (based upon the Agent’s priority setting), and DTP does this whenever you click on the group. So, at first glance, you could emulate Boswell’s auto-archive function. Boswell just uses filters based on simple text matching to do that. Any contains based match in content or metadata will cause Boswell to place a copy of the document in the directed Notebook, upon auto-archival. Now, if you ignore the fact that both TB and DTP have no “journal/archive” metaphor, the act of searching for a text string and adding documents which match this text string to a group, is simple enough with Smart Groups and Agents.

But this ignores an extremely important aspect of Boswell’s Notebook metaphor. It is semi-dynamic; in other words, it is generated automatically (or manually), but remains static and adjustable after that point. In other words, if I remove a filter down the road, the entries that it placed in the Notebook do not disappear from that notebook. They have become a permanent part of it. In either TB or DTP, removing the search term will destroy the dynamically created copies in the group. Even more important is the post-creation aspect of the Notebook. Say you have had a Notebook collecting written articles for a while. You come along and notice a few errors in the automatic process. Some documents did not get added, and a few got put in by error. Simply delete the ones you don’t want, add the ones you do, and move on. Write another article, and it will get automatically added to the Notebook; your pruning remains. So you have an organization unit which is dynamically created, but remains fully editable during the creation process.

There is nothing like that in either TB or DTP. You are not allowed to do any pruning in TB. Deleting or adding notes to an Agent will result in their re-addition or removal in a matter of seconds. In DTP, any pruning you do will be lost the next time you click on the smart group. Of course, you can “freeze” the results. Make a standard group or container, and copy the current search results to it. Now it is “frozen,” and you can remove and add items to that group all you want—but of course now it is no longer dynamic. New documents will not get added to this group, requiring you to do manual labour to get new results in, periodically. If you have several dozen of these, that can get to be a real waste of time.

I would not use the “Smart Folder” analogy at all in trying to explain how Boswell works. The only thing that comes close is Gmail’s labeling system. Labels can be somewhat viewed as Notebooks, and both use filters to automatically assign inbound messages/documents to labels. Of course, you can manually change which labels a note has, too. So the dynamic portion of the equation is all on the inbound end of things. Actually, Gmail’s original conception was very much along Boswell’s line of philosophy. Originally, you couldn’t delete anything. Sorting was a semi-dynamic process that was non-hierarchal. Things have changed since then, however.

The immutability of archived documents is not something that comes automatically in either applications, though it can be emulated to a certain extant. In TB, I can create an Archive container which automatically sets the ReadOnly attribute on inbound notes. This will not lock the metadata, and I will still be able to delete it, but document contents will be locked. If I duplicate the note and move it back to Journal, another trigger can reset ReadOnly and make it editable again. In DTP, there is of course the Locking function, which does not protect metadata, and cannot be activated automatically except with, what would become a very expensive, AppleScript sitting on the Archive Group. Locking a file requires mouse usage, and making a new version requires several mouse actions: duplication, moving, and unlocking.

So here we start getting into what makes Boswell so special. It is not that its features cannot be “somewhat” copied by other applications, it is the ease in which it allows you to use them. To make a new version in Boswell—I hit a custom shortcut, Command-D. The document is transferred to the Journal, and the application focus switches to it. I can begin typing immediately. No mouse movement; no menus; no fuss. Notebooks accumulate new documents according to specific rules you have specified, for years, without any freezing/un-freezing rituals. As common search terms, they exist until you are done with them. Using a simple name hack, when you are done with it you can just sort it to the bottom of the list and forget about it. Delete only when necessary.

Boswell’s Manager is an extremely powerful tool which allows you to do bulk actions on large groups of documents (or just collect them into various Notebooks if that is all you want). It also gives you access to everything it is not currently in a Notebook. And there is another often overlooked feature of Boswell that is radically different than most anything else. The basic idea is that much of your collection has no need to be visible. If a document is not in a Notebook, there is no way to run into it without using the Manager. The Notebooks then, are not the summation of the collection, but more like portals in which you can see into the Archive. That might seem like a bit of a down-side to some people, but consider this: it is a very simple search away if you want to actually view every single document in the Archive. Secondly, Boswell is designed for scope. If you put truly everything into it, that Archive is going to become fairly massive. 25,000 items—50,000 why not? I honestly wouldn’t trust either DTP or TB to open a group/container of that scale without becoming a performance hog. I know for a fact that TB’s format slows down considerable with a semi-large amount of data in it. I kept my diary in it for a few years—probably 230,000 words in 500 notes. It was getting to be very slow to load and save. I have that diary, along with another ten years worth, several novels, five large collections of short stories, e-mail, forum discussions (like this one), and so forth. Boswell opens before I’m even done clicking the icon. No delay. I’ve never put quite so much in DTP, but I have heard of performance problems with large databases. Many people have left DT for that very reason. DTP is supposedly much better, but still. I have no idea what DEVONnote with 50,000 items in it would be like.

Anyway. The manner in which you are using DevonNote is very Boswellian. You treat Notebooks as temporary working areas, or permanent collections of documents, whatever. If you destroy one and ever need it back again—just use the Manager to reconstruct it. The problem is, you are not using DEVONnote the way it was intended to be used. The AI will be hampered by this method. If you never need the AI—then the need for any of the DEVON line of products shrinks dramatically. Beyond the AI and document collection functions, the user interface of the DEVON products is quite a bit behind other applications, such as Mori.

It all comes down to what application feels best in your workflow. DTP is a powerful application, and I really wish that I could have gained some sort of affinity with it. However, I just really do not jive with the heavy reliance on AI. I am always going to be more familiar with my own work than the computer is, so why waste time supervising its assumptions? And I really do not jive with hierarchies. I do believe the tag+collection system will be the organization method of the future. Dynamic tag clouds, such as seen on Flickr, and, combined with semi-dynamic working areas like Boswell’s Notebooks, is far more powerful and flexible than any hierarchy could ever hope to be. So forcing me to use nested groups to get the full potential of the program felt wrong. If I wasn’t going to use that system, and didn’t like AI, then I found a plethora of other applications which had far better UIs that could do nearly everything DTP could do (sans AI of course).

One could argue that user-created filters and AI-created filters are both going to produce moderate errors, so there is actually little difference between them, practically. I disagree. An AI requires a lot of prior data to make any sort of reasonable guess about classification. In terms of DTP, this means spending a lot of time loading it up with a vast quantity of very carefully arranged data, before it will even start working. With Boswell, you can be up and running from the very start. The background data necessary to form a smart filter is already in your head. Secondly, depending on how you use your filters, you might have a close to zero error rate. I never have errors. Auto-archival in Boswell is truly automatic for me. Write and forget. And it’s been that way since I started using it. I only have 2,000 documents in my library right now. From everything I’ve read, that would barely be enough for DTP to get a grip on classification. In other words, the program would only now began to be of use to me in the Write-and-Forget way of doing things.

In the end, Boswell matched me perfectly. I have some serious issues with the aesthetic. The UI itself is actually not that bad. The manner in which you move data around is pretty smart. But the presentation of that UI is lacking by about ten years of Apple innovation. There is one thing to be said though, it does disappear. Once you get familiar with Boswell, everything is so minimal that using it is not at all like using an application. It is simply “there.” DEVONthink is always getting in my way. Tinderbox is even worse. The only application I have used that disappears in this fashion is Ulysses.

So, these are all of the things you pay for with Boswell. A unified philosophy where each feature supports that philosophy. There are no superfluous features outside of it. Everything in the application suits the method. With a little keyboard shortcut customization, accessing these functions is second-nature.

Now, throw a Cocoa interface, and all of the nice things that come along with it, into Boswell—and it would be nearly perfect.

—Amber Vaesca

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Reader Comments (1)

Ramayya · June 4, 2006 - 10:33 EST #1

Please review the application "Quantrix" for Mac OS X in ATPM, if you have not already done so. It is the reincarnation of "Javelin" that used to be available under MS DOS. Even though it is marketed as a Financial Modeling Software, it is a very intuitive Spreadsheet Application with an user interface that Mac Users will appreciate.

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