Philip Schultz on PBS Newshour

“Philip Schultz is a poet, fiction writer and educator. He has been teaching creative writing for nearly 30 years. In 1987, he founded the Writers Studio in New York. He won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Failure.”

This clip aired on the Friday, September 16, 2011 show did not air on the 9/16 show.

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Folders in the FSIM

After my last post, a comment came in from Simon that deserved more than a casual reply.

Simon wrote…

Great post, many thanks!

I’ve been trying to get my head round your post and AmberV’s comments, plus the forum posts. I understand the filename system. I have a few questions:

  1. Do you apply your system to all files you create on your computer including proprietary or only text files?

  2. The folders are causing me an issue. Since the filename pretty much covers the file, there would seem no need for folders, except that you would end up with a single folder with a massive amount of data. Would it be best to use a few folders that cover broad areas such as ‘work’, ‘family’, etc.. This one really baffles me.

I think of folders in the File System Infobase Manager two ways: Large structural divisions of my hard drive (which these days is equivalent to my DropBox account) and smaller temporary containers for active work.

At the root (of DropBox) I keep four folders called Notebook, Admin, Writing and Topics. I also keep temporary folders up at the root for various work in progress.

This is what my top level folder looks like…

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Lion Finder Columns and the FSIM

Perhaps this was a function before Lion, one that I missed by not being curious enough to drag windows around, resize them, see what they would do, but as you can see in the screen shot below good old OS X Lion Finder makes for an excellent File System Infobase Manager browsing tool.

I’ve always used Finder in list view for managing the FSIM. I often use it along with Notational Velocity and/or WriteRoom to make quick edits, or to write longer on an entry I find interesting. I couple it with Quick Look — keeping the QuickLook window open as I scroll through a Finder in List view. This makes for a passable alternative to all the PIM programs out there (Evernote, EagleFiler, Yohimbo, Jounrnler[RIP]) In fact, in many ways it is superior to those apps: The file system is already installed; it has tagging capabilities (as hash tags in the text file, in Spotlight Comments, with OpenMeta tags); it can accommodate all file types; it’s future proof when populated with PDFs and Text files.

But the QuickLook approach was not as elegant as the integrated approach that Notational Velocity provided, so I used NV frequently as a file manager replacement. But now look at what Finder can do on its own.

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I learned of MyTextFile from the TakingNote web site.

The design metaphor for this web app comes from the old days when geek-like people collected and managed their writings in one large ASCI file. MyTextFile is one large ASCI file in the sky.

There are advantages to the single text file structure:

  • Full search is quick and comprehensive (a benefit which has been reduced on the Mac by Spotlight and by desk top search tools on Windows)
  • Unstructured data has low over head in the filing process (One never stops to ponder “Humm, where will I put that file?” or “Humm, what will I name that file?”) You just add new stuff to the end of old stuff.

Many who once used a single text file structure have moved to personal Wikis which have many of the same benefits of one-large-text-file with the addition of visible topic connections. But there are holdouts. The simple solution of using an ever lengthening file for notes and logs has adherents as a google of “one text file” will show you. There is always the nostalgia of the early days. At their inception these text logs were posted to servers, set to public read access, and became the weblogs or blogs of today.

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Making a Reading Notebook From a Private Web Site

Sometimes we just get away from ourselves. I wrote up the post below, built the web site discussed, actually got the whole thing up and functioning nicely. That was before I saw that InstaPaper already had an excellent clipping function built in, out of the box, already there and waiting for me, and that it would do the exact same thing as the system I designed.

So let the attached be a memorial to all those poorly thought out development projects, the ones best deliberated more deeply before begun, the one’s best killed when they are young, at the initiation stage, before we do the palm-to-the-forehead-slap of realization, the cruel knowledge arriving of just how much time we just wasted…

Making a Reading Notebook From a Private Web Site

I’ve been keeping notes on my reading for years. Pre-PC I jotted notes on 3 x 5 cards. Post-PC I typed notes in various electronic formats. Pre-web I cut out and filed articles. Post-web I saved them with a few clicks. For a manic and frustrating period I began scanning all my old paper articles until I abandoned that Sisyphean task. These notes, in all their formats, go back a decade or more, and their maintenance was a significant factor in the creation of my File System Information Manager.

Over the past three years managing my fiction writing has taken greater emphasis in the FSIM, but I still capture a lot of random notes and text from my non-book reading. (For my book reading I have a separate process called “Readers Notes,” that works directly in the FSIM.) But I’m reading on the iPad now so my old system doesn’t work any longer.

Historic Process

For a long time I PDF’ed most articles. I’d read the PDF and not the web page, highlighting and annotating as I went along. These files make up the bulk of the “Topics” category in my FSIM. The benefits of the PDF format is the retention of the graphical layout of the page, which can have subtle information in it, highlighting is easy, and so is notation. The downsides: The files are big and there’s a multi-step PDF generation process. An addition benefit is, as others have commented, that the PDF format, along with ASCI text, is about as future proof an archiving format as we will find.

For a while I grabbed articles as WebArchives, which I found unsatisfactory, or as HTML, which was better, but was not functional for annotations.

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Modifying the InfoBase for the iPad

A comment on another post asked, “how’s it going with PlanText?”

And the short answer is, not so well.

Not that the application is not wonderful. I find PlainText to be the best of the iPad/iPhone note taking and writing applications available. It’s better than Elements (which I find aesthetically unattractive) iAWriter (which I find functionally constrictive) and SimpleNote (which is architecturally off when it comes to its support for a text file based system).

My problem is how PlainText, the file system, and desktop editors like Notational Velocity interact. It’s caused me to rethink bits of my system, if only on the margins.

PlainText relies on folders for categorization. I think this is very smart. Folders are easy, inherent in the file system, and durable. They have the added benefit of managing sync volumes since by definition they break sets of files up into smaller groups.

But in a single folder system, like the one that is required for Notational Velocity, this categorization by folder just doesn’t work. With NV, or any other single folder based info management system, categorization relies on full text search and various in-text tags. I uses WikiCase (aka CamelCase) tags in my entries prepended with a # – against which a search with spotlight of other full text search tools usually brings up the right subset of items.

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