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Ask Slashdot: Professional Journaling/Notes Software? 170

Posted by timothy
from the unexamined-life-not-worth-living dept.
netdicted writes "At the very outset of my career the importance of keeping a daily journal of activities and notes was clearly evident. Over the years I've always had a college ruled composition notebook nearby to jot down important ideas, instructions, tasks, etc. Putting away the rock and chisel was not optional when the volumes grew beyond my mental capacity to successfully index the contents. Over the years I've tried countless apps to keep a digital journal and failed miserably.

In my mind the ideal app or solution is a single file or cloud app where I can organize personal notes on projects, configurations, insights, ideas, etc., as well as noting major activities or occurrences of the day. My original journals saved me on a number of occasions. Unfortunately my tenacity for keeping one has suffered from a fruitless search for a suitable solution. Currently I'm experimenting with Evernote and Tiddlywiki. They approach the problem from two different angles. What do you use?"
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Ask Slashdot: Professional Journaling/Notes Software?

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  • The Luddite Answer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:04PM (#46800747)

    Dear Slashdot, I'm afraid that years from now, my nuggets of wisdom will be lost, and I will not be able to find the appropriate pithy thought to properly respond to a Slashdot Troll... What ever shal I do?

    Dear "Netdicted", first of all, your screen name for some reason reminded me of getting my cat neutered. Second, unplug. There is more to life than a 24/7 high speed connection. Third, consider your follow-on. Your children and grand children will not be able to read your e-diary, and writing things on paper long-hand will help you stave off Alzimers. In other words, keep writing in your Moll Skin, it's really the hippest and most practical way to go, and will leave something for your kids and grand kids to enjoy long after you are gon. Seriously.

    Snark aside, work out a system of indexes - electronically in necessary, but please continue using that old "buggy whip", a pen and paper.

    Excuse me now, I have to mow my lawn.

    • by Lodragandraoidh (639696) on Monday April 21, 2014 @03:24PM (#46808375) Journal

      I tend to agree with sticking with Moleskin(sic) - preferably 8 1/2 X 11 size --- nonruled (blank). I've tried electronic logs - I've tried electronic drawing apps (e.g. Papyrus on a Nexus 7 Android system). The main problem for me is not only do I want to write in it - but I find freeform drawing to be more helpful in conjunction with the writing. The Nexus pixel sizes for drawing where too coarse - and while you can zoom in and out -- the drawings always ended up looking odd - and took longer than just writing on paper. The only other acceptable solution I found was a $1500 Wacom electronic drawing tablet --- so I continue to buy Moleskin at a fraction of the cost.

      So that does bring up the problem that is mentioned regarding indexing - and here is how I deal with that:

      Each entry is dated in this manner: yyyymmdd e.g. 20140421 ; in this way each volume contains a series of entries that are uniquely numbered; if you need to add more than one entry per day - then just add hours and minutes as needed: 20140421:1405 (using the colon to visually separate the date from the time is preferred by me).

      I also encode each entry as to 'type', where types are based upon single letter codes: C = computer science, A = art, etc... I put the letter code inside of a square in the upper - outer corner of each page where an entry begins.

      The next step is to create an electronic index to key entries in your logs --- assuming you number your volumes sequentially - you can identify an entry like this:

      Vol 2, 20140421:1400 History of FOO

      With this system you can have both the flexibility of combining freehand drawing with your log entries, and also keep an index of your key entries organized however you like (perhaps by type, or project codes can expand this as you need beyond my simple method).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:11PM (#46800785)

    It works. Runs on my laptop, server, and tablet!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:14PM (#46800799)

    I've kept it relatively simple over the years.

    I have a text file where I keep a daily log of sorts. My time is charged directly to the customer of the project I'm working on, so the main purpose in this log is to keep track of that (we have a system for entering our time, but it sucks, so I like having my own records) and keep additional notes about what I was doing that day (the system where it ultimately gets entered only cares about the numbers).

    Project specific, I usually create a specific directory per task. I usually end up with a notes.txt file with random bits of info, copies of emails, data files, diagrams, etc. I do most note taking / scratch work on paper, and then either transcribe the important bits (not as arduous as it sounds) or scan them and store them in the folder (we have a really nice sheet fed scanner here). On particularly large projects where I have a lot of written notes, I'll have an actual physical folder or binder to cart the stuff around.

    It's one of those things where tech should be able to solve the problem better, and I'm sure if I adapted to some specific software rather than trying to make the software adapt to how I like doing things it could work, but for now I just haven't found anything that works better or offers a compelling reason to change.

    In my case specifically, one major roadblock to adopting a "paper-free" approach is I often do testing/debug work outside the office, where there is no or little access to the internet and a tablet is not an option for various reasons.

  • OneNote is very good (Score:5, Informative)

    by lucm (889690) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:15PM (#46800807)

    A lot better than Evernote, and now it's free. []

    • by ericloewe (2129490) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:37PM (#46800915)

      Agreed. OneNote is perfect for note-taking. With compatible hardware (tablet with N-trig or Wacom digitizer) you can even get the best handwriting experience this side of paper. Naturally, it works just as well with keyboard+mouse.

      The Windows Desktop version (which is the only one I regularly use) has some pretty random bugs when drawing shapes with the built-in tools (it may be limited to high-DPI displays, though, since it looks like a bad coordinate transformation - and it only happens occaisonally), but is otherwise stable.

      Like all Office applications, it might be good to spend an hour or two learning the ropes instead of diving right in.

    • by meeotch (524339) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:53PM (#46800981) Homepage

      +1 for this. Though I'm sure nobody around here wants to hear about M$ products. "LALALALALAproprietaryLALALALALAwalledgardenLALALALALA".

      I haven't tried Evernote, but only because I skimmed through the site, didn't like the formatting options, and since I've been using OneNote, I haven't felt the need. It did seem like Evernote had more options for grabbing stuff form disparate sources.

      I also haven't tried OneNote 2013, because I don't like subscription software. (LALALALA) But OneNote 2010 has been pretty great. Particularly for my style of note-taking, which involves a lot of page layout, previously requiring going back and erasing when you realize you haven't left enough room, then rewriting all the notes in that section.

      Some irritating issues, that mostly have workarounds:

      1. You can't edit images (or not very well) once they're pasted in. Workaround: hotkey for screen cliping, hotkey to MS Paint. Ctrl-V edit Ctrl-C Ctrl-V into OneNote.
      2. "Dock" mode actually takes over half of your desktop, and shoves all your icons out of the way. Workaround: icon saver program, hotkey.
      3. There are some stupid hotkeys that
      3. Probably some other stuff I'm not remembering.

      The killer feature: With this guy's add-on, you can auto-complete to build up fairly complex mathematical equations pretty quickly. []

      It also auto-OCR's images in the background, so that you can search for text in images you've pasted in.

      Exporting to pdf appears to preserve links, including "internal" ones between pages, as long as you export all the relevant pages together. Exporting to mht is not quite as successful.

      Now my notes look like this: []

      I believe there's a tablet version - but I wouldn't want to use it with a stylus. Particularly if I was trying to use handwriting recognition to enter math equations.

    • by unixisc (2429386) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:20PM (#46801091)
      I found OneNote useful as well, ironically, only thru my Windows Phone. When it first appeared on my PC as a part of an Office installation, I had no idea of what to do w/ it. But on my phone, once I saw templates like shopping lists, travel plans & so on, I was hooked. Now I use it on my phone all the time. From there, my usage on the PC has also gone up, thanks to OneDrive.
  • paper...pencil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sooner Boomer (96864) <sooner.boomr@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:19PM (#46800831) Journal

    I've been working on a research project in Chemical Engineering for the past 5 years as a consultant. I struggled, like you, to find a technical solution for a professional journal. I had to settle for fifty cent spiral bound notebook and pencil (I found a neat plastic case to keep them in). No other solution could provide me a way to easily keep a written ledger of text and numbers, draw diagrams, schematics, and allow me to easily edit mistakes. When the notebooks were full, they went into a three-ring binder. Searching through the pages of the binders is fairly easy, especially since *I'm* the one that wrote the notes.

    Don't over-think the problem.

    • by The123king (2395060) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:28PM (#46800875)
      This. No software can trounce the flexibility of a pen and a pad of paper. If you're that obsessed with digitising it, get a scanner and save the scans as PDF's
      • by ericloewe (2129490) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:38PM (#46800927)

        Well, a tablet with a digitizer (Think Surface Pro) can do pretty much all sorts of notetaking typically done with pen and paper. It helps organization immensely.

      • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:51PM (#46800975)

        Hmm, the problem I find is that when notes start getting too copious it can be difficult or almost impossible to find a particular bit that you were looking for, especially stretching over years. If pen and paper notebooks came with an automated search function I'd be happy!

        • The automated search thing uses the wiggly bits at the end of your hands and the lookey bits on either side of your nose. Sorry, not trying to be snide, but the things I'm usually searching for 1) were written by me, so when I get close to the proper page, my memory kicks in and I usually remember where stuff is*, and 2), I'm usually not searching for an individual search term. If something is unique, I can usually get close enough to find it by flicking through a few pages. Weekly/monthly/quarterly reports also help narrow time frame.

            *this is a kind of a Fourier Transform, where the "when" (time function), turns into a "where" (spatial location) in the series of note pages.

        • by black6host (469985) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:18PM (#46801337)

          What I'm using is Evernote plus a Livescribe Sky pen. You write your notes in a notebook (yes, it has to be one of their notebooks) but a copy of the page (searchable if you use Evernote Premium and write halfway legible) is stored as a note. Plus audio can be recorded at the same time and is associated with the text being written at the same time. I've tried the Echo version of the pen and it requires Adobe reader to take hear the audio. Don't like it as Adobe reader is nothing but a big self contained advertisement that does some other stuff.

          There is also a newer version of their pen called the Livescribe 3 but it doesn't work with Android devices (the Sky does) and requires a device to playback audio.

          Plus, if you lose your notes in Evernote you always have your backup paper notebook with your handwritten text. So you haven't lost it all.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Monday April 21, 2014 @05:52AM (#46803761) Homepage

            You can get notebooks/pads with markings in the corners and an accompanying Android/iOS app that lets you scan them with the camera. The marks help the software neaten the photo up. Works well with erasable Frixxon ball pens.

          • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:16AM (#46805163) Homepage

            I use an Echo (bought it before the Sky came out), and I'll echo all the above. I periodically export my evernote data and save it in case the service goes down.

            With the Echo you're not limited to Adobe to listen to the recordings - you can also listen to them with the supplied client software. The Sky does not use client software as it just directly syncs to Evernote.

            The only thing that makes me nervous about the Sky is that it is dependent on an outside service. In theory my Echo pen will work 10 years after Livescribe and Evernote goes out of business - I just can't upload my notes to Evernote. But, the Sky certainly seems more useful to me overall - perhaps I'll upgrade and donate my Echo to a college student.

      • by kbrannen (581293) on Monday April 21, 2014 @12:44PM (#46806719)

        If I was taking a class (or whatever) with a high ratio of drawing to text, then I'd agree. However, I'm rarely in that situation; most of my notes are text only.

        I can type faster than I write, even with abbreviations (which I can do while typing too), and my handwriting has decreased over the years, so typing is almost manditory unless I really slow my handwriting down, which is the opposite of what I need to do while taking notes when someone else is speaking.

        That's how it is for me, perhaps your situation is more conduction for pen and paer ... mine's not.

    • by zugmeister (1050414) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:34PM (#46800901)
      Spiral bound is nice as it lays open and flat, but the spiral part doesn't weather well. For the last couple years I've been using a Whitelines squared hardcover notebook [] and a Lamy fountain pen/a. If you're gonna be using it for the next year or so, you might as well get decent stuff. []
      • My notebooks weren't always spiral bound, sometimes they were the kind with the bound backing (I bought several of whatever was cheapest at the beginning of each semester). When whatever form they were, got full, they went into a 3-ring binder (including the covers which have beginning-ending dates, phone numbers, and other important info). Almost all of these (college ruled) notebooks are also pre-punched, so I just carefully remove the pages.

        I started using expensive refillable mechanical pencils. After they were dropped (once!) and broken, I went with either cheap mechanical pencils, or the old fashioned wooden ones (which no one seemed to steal!). I need the ability to correct things, ink is not practical (except for some drawings where I use lots of colored pens to keep functions seperate)

        • by michael_cain (66650) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:29PM (#46801395) Journal
          One of the other functions notebooks occasionally fill is as evidence in patent hearings. If that's a consideration, pencils are a no-no because things can be changed. Yeah, I'm at the "get off my lawn" age these days, but best practice for patent cases is still bound notebooks, numbered pages, ink. If you screwed something up three days ago, you don't erase and fix, you redraw on a new page with the current date and refer back as "corrects version of this on pg 23." For personal use, that's overkill.

          I ended up with a piece of home-grown Perl/Tk code that lets me do notes from the keyboard, simple drawings with the mouse, paste in pictures and files, etc. Uses what appears to be the old xterm "fixed" font because at one point I planned to have a version that multiple people could view across the network and I wanted pixel-level sameness across locations. Multiple colors because as you say, sometimes that helps with clarity (and if I go back to add another observation on an existing page, I use a contrasting color for the text). Every line of text or drawn element gets timestamped and recorded -- that's for my own use, and is certainly not good enough to stand up in court. No limit to how far a page can grow down or to the right, which creates its own set of problems. I'm probably the only person in the world that would find it useful, but it does get some of the job done.
    • by rewindustry (3401253) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:11PM (#46801043)

      i have kinetic memory, my body knows where it put something, even when i cannot remember a thing.

      there is no substitute for writing it down, i find, and typing is definitely not writing, does not have the same effect.

      the only digital solution that almost worked for me was a pen tablet, and perhaps now that our invention has come full circle, and we're back to scribbling on stone (well, sand) tablets again, i may finally lose the pen and paper..

      but not yet - paper can be recycled - and as far as i know this is not true for batteries.

    • by fermion (181285) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:11PM (#46801045) Homepage Journal
      Keepping a notebook is critical, and for most application pen and paper is good enough. I learned that when I was young and working in small business and research. Everyone had a notebook. Some just a spiral bound notebook. Some a real research notebook. Many a Franklin planner with yearly storage cases. I myself keep many various notebooks around that I jot notes in.

      Which is to say that not everyone has the same solution, and some find electronics notebooks useful. My main problem is that most electronics notebooks do not handle math and drawings will, which is what I do. I do have some stuff on electronic notebooks. Those listed are what I use. What we don't have are people who are proficient enough to teach the workflow of how to use them.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:47PM (#46801217)

      Plus . . . I haven't seen a Snowden press release yet that the NSA has technology for snooping in pencils and paper. When they come knocking on your door, you can eat your notes. A USB stick will not digest.

      Maybe there is some kind of edible rice based paper that would dissolve quickly in the stomach . . . ? In old spy movies, folks used to munch down secret notes all the time.

    • by ortholattice (175065) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:43PM (#46802087)
      I do this. Also, once every year or two, I scan all the pages and make a nice pdf file of each volume. I put bookmarks on pages that I think I may want to look up quickly (often these correspond to physical bookmarks such as little sticky notes) and also bookmark start of month or start of new project. My bookshelf, with 5 linear feet of notes over the years, fits on a thumb drive. In practice, I typically look up things in the pdfs rather than the physical notes. I intend to dispose of the physical notes someday, at least the very old ones (ego has prevented me from doing so thus far), but even if my house burns down my notes are safely stored away on a remote backup.
    • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:11AM (#46805109) Homepage

      I have a livescribe pen, which I use for exactly the reasons you state. It requires special paper, but the cost of the paper is cheap compared to the time I spend writing on it.

      It captures everything written and can output in PDF, and can also do correlated audio recordinds, export to evernote, etc. Since it captures the path and not just the resulting image the OCR should be better than for scanned handwriting.

      If I had a pen-based tablet I could see going electronic, but I doubt I could do handwriting on a standard touchscreen tablet very well (a pen-based tablet only detects input from the pen - you can touch the screen with your finger and nothing happens).

  • by innocent_white_lamb (151825) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:21PM (#46800835)

    I use tuxcards []. I used gnote for quite a while but I find tuxcards makes it easier for me to visualize what I have.

    I don't keep huge piles of notes in it, though -- mostly things like to-do lists.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:22PM (#46800847)

    Search-able and simple simple text is cross platform and easily copied and pasted. It acts like your "College ruled" notebooks and a single file could hold all. And, using the search mechanism you could search for a word or a date. The discipline you need is a really simple format: date first, topic or keyword and then just type. End with a signature, initials, keyword or "to do" note or phrase.
    Why make it harder?

  • by westernjanus (900664) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:22PM (#46800849) Homepage
    I am in fear of the flames now, but I started using OneNote around three months ago and I swear, it is the best note-taking system that I have ever used. I would go so far to say that it might be the best program that Microsoft has on offer. Very flexible, very easy to use, and the cut and paste feature really makes it useful. There you go....And they are giving it away free.
    • by zugmeister (1050414) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:38PM (#46800925)
      OneNote is great, except that it needs a computer to run on. A good pen and notebook can be much lighter/cheaper/faster for jotting down a note and will give you great battery life to boot!

      I agree though, if you're in front of the same computer all day OneNote is a truly excellent program.
  • by Anrego (830717) * on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:25PM (#46800865)

    I've gotta go with the hive mind here as well. I do most of my note taking on pads of paper, then throw those pages into physical folders, and then those folders into a filing cabinet.

    On the computer side, a folder with the name of the project/task/whatever to dump digital stuff related to it.

    Old fashioned, sure.. but it works.

    • by Crispy Critters (226798) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:00PM (#46801271)
      "On the computer side, a folder with the name of the project/task/whatever to dump digital stuff related to it."

      I also always use filenames like 20140420.txt. Graphics get names like 20140420.jpeg. Search with grep, back up with rsync, remote access via ssh. This works for me because (1) most of my notes are text and (2) keeping the material readable for 10 years or longer is a requirement. Take notes by hand in meetings and transcribe later, which means I rewrite them into English while I still remember what happened.

  • notepad (Score:5, Informative)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:26PM (#46800867) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. Just put .LOG on the first line of the file and every time you open it Notepad puts the date and time.
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:37PM (#46800919)

    from or a similar outlining app.

    Text, images/screen shots, linked files, audio, all in an organizable outline format meaning I can keep a years worth of notes searchable and displayable in a small window.

    The text is kept in normal Mac format, so Spotlight can easily search all OO files for a specific text item.

  • by jones_supa (887896) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:39PM (#46800931)

    Microsoft OneNote.


  • by JamesA (164074) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @03:39PM (#46800933)

    I used to use organized .txt files but switched to DokuWiki. []

    Now I can access notes from all of my devices and share them easily with associates as well.

    I tried Evernote, MediaWiki, Atlassian's Confluence and a ton of other options but DokuWiki is the only solution I have found that makes managing a notebook easy, fast and enjoyable.

  • Rsync [] your CherryTree [] file, or sync with whatever cloud storage solution you use, Google Drive, Microsoft NSAAS, whatever.

    It's a bit limited for complex things, but it worked for some students I know tracking the majority of their note-keeping needs. Stopped using 3rd party solutions since I eat my own dogfood, and now have notes integrated into my distributed versioned whiteboard / issue tracker / build & deploy & test product. I have issue/note/image annotation plugins for coding with Netbeans, Eclipse, Visual Studio, Emacs and Vim -- Which reminds me of a Vim plugin I just saw that you might find useful... [] if you can run a (home) server (and port forward around NAT), then install Wordpress on a LAMP stack (in a VM, because PHP exploits) -- I'm pretty sure Emacs has all that built in by default now: C-x M-c M-microblog.

    I jest, it's just Org mode. [] Save your .org to your Git repo, and away you go.

  • by ikhider (2837593) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:08PM (#46801033)
    Your notes can be as detailed or as slim as you want. This is some pretty good project management software.
  • by thecoolbean (454867) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:14PM (#46801055) Homepage

    I have used OneNote for years, but take a look at Freemind []
    I like using it specifically when laying out a working outline for a theme paper, a programming problem, etc.

    It allows Visual / Org-chart and outline display of notes. not just tabs. Easy to re-arrange and show different ways. Import and Export to HTML & XML. Superneato.

  • by spasm (79260) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:19PM (#46801081) Homepage

    I've been writing ethnographic field notes for about 15 years. I had a couple of phases of trying to do this electronically, but the notes from each of those 3 month experiments are for the most part now lost or at least difficult to access - proprietary formats, failed backups, accidental deletions, you name it. Whereas the paper notebooks are sitting on my bookshelf beside my desk. For one project I chopped the spine off the notebook and dropped the pages into a bulk scanner before perfect-binding the notebook back together again, but the resulting physical notebook is a bit more delicate than I'd like. But I do like having an electronic version, both for backup and so I have a copy available when I'm away from my bookshelf. So these days I photocopy each notebook and drop the photocopies through the scanner (and more recently I've been able to have a student or an intern do it, but for a task I only needed to do every three-six months it was never that onerous to begin with), storing both the photocopy and a copy of the pdf offsite. I've played with various indexing schemes over the years, from leaving the last dozen pages blank and writing a single-line description of the contents of each page as I filled it (2002-03-21: key informant interview, ER doctor, hospital xxx), through to embedding metadata on relevant pages of the pdf to make it searchable (my handwriting is way way too bad for ocr to have any utility). But the 'write the index on the last few pages of the notebook as you go' method has been the simplest and most robust, and it rarely takes long to find anything, even with 30 or so notebooks on my bookshelf. And picking up an old notebook every few months and just reading or skimming through it is often a worthwhile exercise, reminding you of ideas and streams of thought and research context in ways that simply searching for something you already know is in there never can.

    As an additional benefit, I've always found making notes in a notebook to be less intrusive in meetings or interviews than typing or using a stylus on a tablet (although changing social norms may make the latter less intrusive eventually), and the act of writing to be less intrusive to my own thought processes than typing (maybe just because no red squiggly lines appear under my notes as I type, or text reflowing, drawing the eye as it does so), but that might just be me, or I might just be showing my age.

    • by jittles (1613415) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:35AM (#46804829)

      As an additional benefit, I've always found making notes in a notebook to be less intrusive in meetings or interviews than typing or using a stylus on a tablet (although changing social norms may make the latter less intrusive eventually), and the act of writing to be less intrusive to my own thought processes than typing (maybe just because no red squiggly lines appear under my notes as I type, or text reflowing, drawing the eye as it does so), but that might just be me, or I might just be showing my age.

      I always use the computer for taking notes in meetings. I can type at over 200WPM and my handwriting is painfully slow in comparison. I used to do transcription work to pay the bills through my days at the university. I could quite literally record every word of a meeting if I wanted to. I find that its easier to follow the meeting if I make a quick electronic note and then return my attention to the person talking. It's important to have the right keyboard for this. Many people like their MX keyboards with mechanical switches, but they are very loud and very rude during meetings. It is considerate to avoid making loud keyboard noises.

  • by Deathlizard (115856) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:22PM (#46801107) Homepage Journal

    Writes like paper
    Syncs to evernote
    Saves everything to pdf and can easily be printed for paper archival

  • by dslbrian (318993) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:27PM (#46801131)

    I use this: Freeplane []

    It's not the right tool for long verbose text, but for collecting ideas and arranging them together it works well. I tend to think of it as a free-form web page. A few key things:
    - It is portable, at least I run mine off a USB flash drive. This is a key feature, if it were not so then it wouldn't get used. It's not "cloud" but then I think of this as being better than a cloud version, as it does not require network, and you don't have to worry about cloud security.
    - It can support links to other files (local on the drive) or web links to external sites. This ability to organize an amorphous collection of things (text, local links, remote links, images) is what makes it a good idea tool.
    - It can collapse/expand parts of the map so you can focus on topic at hand. Just make sure to enable the setting that saves the state of the map (for some reason IIRC it defaults to everything collapsed when the map is first opened).

    Once you setup a couple keybindings, and get the hang of creating and linking new nodes it becomes a pretty fast tool to work in also.

  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:28PM (#46801139) Homepage
    If you're just looking for a laundry list of note-taking apps, I'm sure Google can help. If you want real advice you need to provide more information. You're obviously in the habit of taking notes with pen and paper, so why have you failed miserably to keep a digital journal? What part of it doesn't work for you? Your list of requirements is missing that bit of information. You want a "single file or cloud app where I can organize personal notes on projects, configurations, insights, ideas, etc.,". Well, that about covers every single note-taking app ever written, as well as every text editor from the dawn of time. Try to narrow it down a little. Or, stick with pen and paper if it's been working for you. What do you hope to gain by going digital? Knowing that will help point you in the right direction.
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:44PM (#46801201)

    I use Evernote. But I don’t trust it.

    I use Evernote for most of my digital notes stuff. I like the syncing feature which keeps notes on my mac, smartphone and tablet in sync.

    However I don’t trust it for really important long-term stuff. Really essential stuff, such as long writing projects, articles, essays, important letters or digital journals go into textfiles that are in directories covered by redundant backup/archive mechanisms on detached portable HDDs with filesystems that can be read with widely available free open source software (Mac OS X HFS *without* journaling).

    Doing anything else with anything valuable that’s supposed to stay useable longer than a decade is insane.

    For instance, I still have CD copies of CD Archives of Zip Disk Archives of very old HDDs (2,5 40 MB HDDs would fit on one ZipDisk attached via parallel port - yepp, those were the days) with texts written in Ami Pro. The Ami Pro format is openable with a regular text editor, but it still is anoying to extract the useful data. No way am I installing Dos 5 and Win 3.11 on a Vbox just to run Ami Pro just to open them. Hence, only UTF-8 textfiles since round-about 2000.

    You should do the same for any journal stuff that is supposed to last longer than 3 years.

    My 2 cents.

    • It's easy enough to export Evernote data into a directory full of HTML files. I dump mine into the git repo I keep all my important files in. That even keeps formatting and linking, which is a big improvement over most text file oriented solutions. If you're more of a fan of wiki style for that, you can use something like Markdown conversion. []

      The main tie-breaker reason I ended up at Evernote is full read and write access to the repository on my phone. The days of losing an idea when I'm wandering around are gone. I type it into my phone, and by the time I'm on my desktop that note is stored with more redundancy that I ever achieved on my own.

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:24AM (#46805251) Homepage

        I'm on the same page as you. I use evernote for the cloud convenience, and it gets me automatic backup of all my documents for free.

        I periodically dump everything locally. I usually use their xml export format, figuring that if they ever went out of business suddenly somebody else would come up with a way to transform it. In the more likely case that I have a sense that they're going out of business I can export to html as you suggest, but as a backup format a tree full of html isn't ideal.

  • by SpzToid (869795) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @04:56PM (#46801249)

    Only slightly offtopic: Here's a similar use-case and how I solved it. The problem is 'collecting' job ads efficiently to spend my time applying for.

    Requirement: Avoid redundant re-reading of the same stupids ads over and over, (so alway view ads boards by date, most recent ads first; and maybe use 'email search by date filters' too). Also, I want to avoid applying with recruiters as much as possible by applying only directly to firms whenever possible, etc.

    The Scrapbook extension allows me to quickly select html verbatum from any web page and save it locally to disk with my notes, while a right-click takes me to the original web page. I save these in 'dated' folders, at least initially to save time, so I can stay focused to the task at-hand. Even when the original webpage is gone, I still have a copy of it, (and I didn't print or save any paper either). []

    Scrapbook allows me to save these pages locally to disk in folders, *and* the extension appears in the sidebar, *and* allows me to prioritize the ads worth applying to simply by re-ordering them up and down, using the mouse; and also move them to other folders

    This is the best solution I've found so far, and if anyone knows something better I'm eager to read.

  • by ZeroPly (881915) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:09PM (#46801293)
    What you call "notes", the local prosecutor calls "evidence". Something you write that might seem totally harmless to you - "today I spent three hours daydreaming about putting bleach in my idiot boss's Diet Coke" suddenly becomes damning when presented out of context to a jury, after someone put bleach in your boss's Diet Coke and he wound up in the hospital.

    I have been keeping a plain text log for the better part of two decades. They are just individual text files, one for each day, with titles like 2014-04-20_sue_party, a date and a quick description of anything unusual. The encryption mechanism has changed, but right now they are all stored on a Truecrypt volume. A vanilla search only takes a minute at most.
    • by greg1104 (461138) <> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:01PM (#46801887) Homepage

      I don't expect encryption to save me here in the US, not the way key disclosure [] law is going so far. There's no perfect solution possible here, and the trade-offs in only having a local copy aren't so great. You have to transport the data over a network to get real redundancy for your notes, which is one of the most important things electronic notes do better than handwritten ones. Recent news has shown in so many ways that you can't expect network privacy either.

      I'm skeptical of people who believe their personal systems are beyond monitoring too. If you theorize a world where hostile prosecutors are empowered and interested enough in you to search your private notes, your problems are bigger than how exactly you protected them

    • by Tool Man (9826) on Monday April 21, 2014 @11:23AM (#46805905)

      What you call "notes", the local prosecutor calls "evidence". Something you write that might seem totally harmless to you - "today I spent three hours daydreaming about putting bleach in my idiot boss's Diet Coke" suddenly becomes damning when presented out of context to a jury, after someone put bleach in your boss's Diet Coke and he wound up in the hospital.

      I have been keeping a plain text log for the better part of two decades. They are just individual text files, one for each day, with titles like 2014-04-20_sue_party, a date and a quick description of anything unusual. The encryption mechanism has changed, but right now they are all stored on a Truecrypt volume. A vanilla search only takes a minute at most.

      I'll chip in with a combination that works for me. This may or may not overlap with the OP, but YMMV.
      Anyway, I want to be able to have access to my data in multiple places, including mobile. On the other hand, I also expect a certain control over my data, including the ability to encrypt (and still have access).

      Org-mode has some support for iOS and Android apps, including syncing to a central location via Dropbox or WebDav. Encryption is available too, using the OpenSSL command-line tool IIRC. WebDav is also supported by ownCloud, so the central sync point isn't DropBox and their snoopy new board member, but my own VPS elsewhere. Of course, one of the beauties of org-mode too is that in the end, the data is still plain text once decrypted, so the local copy is never stuck in an opaque format. If I'm concerned about my local copies' security, then that is in an encrypted volume.

  • by Xel (84370) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:32PM (#46801741) Homepage

    I grew up right on the cusp– I learned to print and write cursive in grade school but I always had bad penmanship and started typing papers on a word processor in middle school. Got my first computer in high school. So I am more comfortable typing than writing by hand, and Im sure anyone younger than me is going to be even more so. I can understand why so many people suggest you type your notes- it does present zero barrier to entry, and no compatibility issues, but its the WORST format by far for searching and retrieving information later on. The more you write, and the longer you wait, the harder it will be to remember where and when you wrote that one particular nugget of wisdom.

    I'd also stay away from any app or god forbid, cloud service, that is proprietary. If it doesn't offer XML import/export, I wouldn't even consider it. Also, no way Im using an Omni product that will extort a $100 upgrade fee whenever they like. Plain text for me, with a copy exported as PDF and appended to a master document that I can search from any PDF compatible app on any platform.

  • by DrTime (838124) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:11PM (#46801919)

    I went from keeping a simple and cheap paper lab notebook to just using MS-Word. Paper notebooks were fine in the olden days, I could tape in tables or diagrams from books. But paper is hard to search and organize and move from desk to desk and job to job.

    I simply keep an MS-Word (or Google Docs) file where the document starts with several tables, such as charge codes, assigned staff contact data, assigned staff current assignment, and a To Do List.

    Then I have a current to past date order where each date has a header with the date in Bold (using a style) and is followed by note lines indented to make each entry easy to spot and follow. When I read a document or reference a file, I add a hyperlink to the item in my notes.

    With MS-Word i have active hyperlinks, I can paste in tables or diagrams, or Dilbert cartoons. Every three months I close the file, write lock it, and start a new one from the previous one. To shorten the file, I trim old entries from the current one because the original file is intact. Eery month I print the current one to have with me for reference. Each file ends up about 40 pages. I currently have less used tables at the end of the file.

    My oldest one still opens and has its original file time stamp. If MS-Word ever announces it will obsolete a format, I could convert them to Google Docs or save in the new format. Lets face it, MS-Word is a defacto standard. It is used everywhere now. I have used these files on both Macs and PCs.

    My method has saved my sorry ass many times. When did I talk to such and such about something? I search the files and I have dates because I record a brief summary of every discussion I hold with names. Personnel issues, I have notes. Document lost? I have links and the dates I read it, even if the link is broken, I have a record. Travel, I have a record. Meetings? I have a record with notes.

    Do I want to trust a third party like EverNote, No.

    Have I ever lost one of these files, No. I have them at work, at home, and on Google Drive.

    The records have helped me trace missing circuit boards since recorded to whom and when I sent them.

    I started using this when my manager, before I became one, would ask me if I was working on something. If I had no record of when we talked and what he said, I was at fault for not working on something. When I started keeping records, that problem ended.

  • by drolli (522659) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:39PM (#46802075) Journal

    The best system i found are plain text files for the really important things, in a year/month/day directory structure. Store it locally on a usb stick and use an arbitray sync tool or version mangement to sync between your devices.

    Searching these is easy.

  • by helixcode123 (514493) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @08:12PM (#46802203) Homepage Journal

    I use Emacs with "Org Mode". It lets me collapse each day's information to single line, but all of the information can be searched like a normal Emacs buffer and expanded as needed. You even get the handy table formatting. If you need to output sections they can be rendered to PDF, HTML, etc.

  • by manu0601 (2221348) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @09:16PM (#46802433)
    I do that with vi, find and grep on a collection of plain text files. It works rather well.
  • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @10:40PM (#46802699)
    I mostly use OneNote (was using Evernote for shared stuff, but am transitioning that to OneNote now that it's free). The biggest problem I run across is permanency. If you write something on paper, it's pretty much permanent (unless the ink fades or the paper turns to dust). If you write something in OneNote, then later accidentally select it while typing something else and don't notice it, it's gone. For shared notes, if someone wants to cover up a problem, they could simply delete someone else's remark pointing it out.

    The same characteristic makes it difficult to use these note-taking apps for event tracking. For certain tasks (e.g. customer relationship management), you want an immutable record of events which you can refer back to in the future. Worst case you may even need for it to stand up in a court of law. You get this permanency with pen and paper (at the cost of disorganization). You don't get it with OneNote or Evernote.

    (Yes I realize for serious customer relationship management, I should be using real CRM software. But I just fix stuff on my extended family's computers, and have been bitten by accidental deletions more than once.)
    • by ray-auch (454705) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:14AM (#46804621)

      Immutability and retention are an issue with all digital information outside a properly configured and standards-compliant electronic records system - and even then there are limitations.

      OneNote can get close enough for most purposes however - it can be configured to auto-backup to any location at configurable time intervals. Use file-history, time-machine, rsync, etc. from there. Zip, digital-sign and timestamp the backups and store in your records management system or file directly with multiple sets of lawyers around the world. Once your backups grow to significant size, realise you needed a retention and disposal policy and mechanism...

      Also, be aware that nothing is perfect - permanency of paper stores is often overestimated. Anything that is ever referred to (and if not, why are you keeping it?) needs a checkout/checkin/refile process all of which involves risk of loss. Temperature, humidity, mold, vermin, can all bite you badly, before you even get to the more obvious ones of the single cigarette-end or burst water pipe.

  • by Morpf (2683099) on Monday April 21, 2014 @05:11AM (#46803681)

    I started using desktop wikis for writing down my notes. Right now I am using Zim.

    Bonus: You can read and edit the files with any text editor as it's just mark-up.

  • by captjc (453680) on Monday April 21, 2014 @07:16AM (#46803993)

    It's a FOSS cross-platform personal wiki. It has all the advantages of wikis without the bothersome markup language. It is best parts of being able to link notes together mixed with a simple rich text editor.

    Simple and Easy to use.

  • by horza (87255) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:13AM (#46804613) Homepage

    The best app I have come across for storing ideas is KeepNote []. Free and cross-platform, though it could do with a few more features. OneNote seems not bad for storing recipes etc, but is obviously unacceptable for storing personal data.

    In terms of PIM, this is not really the same as OP was asking as most of them are calendar/to-do based. I've tried every single ones of these, and have found MyLifeOrganized [] to be the best. One of the few apps I've been happy to pay for. Microsoft Windows only but works under WINE.


  • by guru42101 (851700) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:54AM (#46804993)
    https://labnodes.vanderbilt.ed... [] has the ability to keep track of resources and share them with other researchers. They were working on notebook functionality before I left, but it doesn't look like that has been implemented yet.
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday April 21, 2014 @01:54PM (#46807409) Homepage

    Over the years I've always had a college ruled composition notebook nearby to jot down important ideas, instructions, tasks, etc.

    For me, I have never seen any of the technology solutions to have ever gotten better than this.

    In terms of flexibility, robustness, availability, and the lack of the need to fiddle endlessly with technology which almost does most of what I want (but with more effort)... I will stick with my black hard-cover lab books. It's independent of my employer, my time zone, what kind of power plugs are used locally, and vendors who decide they don't want to support it any more.

    I've got a stack of them which go back almost 20 years. I've used them day in and day out. If I can come up with an approximate timeline as to what I'm looking for, I can usually find what I'm looking for fairly quickly.

    Every now and then a co-worker will wonder why we're doing something a certain way, or how we decide on it ... and I can usually dig it up in my notes pretty quickly.

    Go ahead, use your fancy cloud technologies, your scanning pens, your digicam pics of your notes ... me, I'll stick with the low tech solution which has served me well for many years.

    Sure, I'm a grumpy old man. But I was grumpy 20 years ago. Now I'm just grumpy about different things. Endlessly fiddling with technology which isn't really any better than a pen and paper is one of them.

    For me, the optimal solution already exists. If you are feeling really fancy, get one of those pens with the 4 different color inks -- you can annotate and mark things up to your hearts content.

  • by zieroh (307208) on Monday April 21, 2014 @02:41PM (#46807897)

    I use TaskPaper. It's just slightly more than plain text, offering some automatic (and fairly unobtrusive) organization. I keep one text file for one year, and then start a new one.

"If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?" -- Lily Tomlin