A More Durable Watch

I broke another Timex expedition watch(T40091). The stem broke without good reason while the watch was protected in my pocket. The previous expedition was destroyed when the stem was forcibly removed when gardening( T47902). So much for the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking”. I had some high hopes for the Expedition series. I thought they would be more durable than they actually were. I replaced the Timex with the Momentum Steelix watch. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA What I wanted:

  1. Durable construction. The body and pins had to be made of something strong.I have had the pins bend, and the holes enlarge and deform. Supposedly durable and rugged plastic has ripped on me as well. The steelix has 316L marine grade stainless.

  2. Water proof 20ATM steel casing (water resistant to 200m) 2. Locked down crown. This keeps dust and grime out and protects the stem from being ripped out. I was not familar with this option, till I had my second stem disembowlment. It is a bit of a pain having to unscrew the crown, but knowing that it is protected is worth it. Interestingly the stem is set at the 4 o’clock position, offsetting it from a bent wrist.

  3. Scratch resistant glass— [saphire crystal]. Saphire crystal is highly scratch resistant but may shatter with the right force. The first things I notice as a watch ages are fine scratches on the watch face. After wearing the steelix for 5 months, there is not a scratch on the face.

Comparing Omnioutliner and Circus Ponies Notebook

Why write an Outline

I wrote an outline, once, in high school, when computers were big and screens were green. I did not understand the purpose of it and the numbering conventions seemed arcane. I was so confused that, I wrote the outline after I had written the paper, completely defeating its purpose. Writing down a proposed structure seemed a waste of time because a paper outline is not malleable. An outline is an exploration of structure and exploration requires revision.

What I did not understand at the time was the efficiency of writing an outline. Nothing slows down writing than not know where the piece is going. It is easier and faster to create the structure and flow of a document and then write what you think you need.

The use writing as a sole means of a discovery takes a long time and is incomplete. mind mapping is a better tool 1 for discovering the links and in your topic. Outlines are a means to structure those connections.

Outlines are guides but they should not necessarily restrict the writing. The outline is only a means of exploration and clarification; deviation and modification are expected and encouraged.

What Software is available

There are some interesting online outlining applications:

  1. Ginko – a horizontal outliner
  2. Fargo 
  3. Mind Meister

But, since I like the ability to be work offline, my choices for Mac Os X are:

Dr.Drang has given an overview of most of these outliners. It is also worth reading Arno’s Tech Tools  for more analysis.

Folding text a markdown outliner. There some ingenious bit of programming to accomplish outlines in plain text. It is the fastest way of getting from an outline to a markdown document. Unfortunately development seems to have stopped for Folding Text.

The Tree offers some interesting possibilities as a horizontal outliner – but I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the concept. Horizontal outlines provide a view of the structure and content of the document in a compressed format. Not Nursed Ratchetoffers an interesting modification to Tree to compose markdown documents.

Opal is solid, straightforward and handles OPML well – it is just a little limiting and has some obscure shortcuts. Neo is crazy powerful,is incredibly obscure and uses non-standard shortcuts.

Neo is an extremely powerful, advanced and capable outliner. Unfortunately, it is obtuse, and uses non standard keybindings and conventions.

I have been using Circus Ponies Notebook for a few years and it has worked well, but I wanted to give Omnioutliner 4 another try.

Comparing Omnioutliner 4 and Circus Ponies Notebook


Omnioutliner comes in two versions: Standard ($50) and Pro ($100). The biggest difference is the two is AppleScript. The Pro version has row to row linking.

Circus Ponies Notebook cost $49.95.

Advanced Outlining

Omnioutliner 4 Pro allows for hyperlinking within a document. Circus Ponies Notebook allows for linking within an outlines and between outlines within a document.

Both programs support hoisting but not cloning.

Omnioutliner allows for multiple columns. Circus Ponies Notebook allows for keywords to be placed outside of a row.


Text can be styled according to outline level in both programs. However, Omnioutliner makes the process much easier as style choices are readily available in the sidebar. These styles can be transferred from document to document. Different “Themes” can be applied on the fly to a document. Omnioutliner can make an outline look good. Unfortunately, only the Pro version comes with the option of turning off row handles.

Circus Ponies Notebook allows for styling as well but it requires a deep dive into preferences. Styling options are not as complete. Styles can not be transferred to another outline. This means you would have to start with a blank notebook without the styles that you wanted for a given project or recreate them for each new project. However, Circus Ponies Notebook does allow you to turn off row handles if you want without having to pay for the “pro” version.

Features outside of outlining


Circus Ponies Notebook allows:
+ diagramming
+ stickies
+ Flags
+ Due dates/creation dates
+ Highlighting
These annotations with the exception of highlighting and dates occurs at the level of the page and not the cell.


Circus Ponies Notebook allows for keywords to be added in the column for any given cell. Omnioutliner allows for multiple columns – a column could easily hold a keyword. Circus Ponies Notebook can highlight words in cell. Omnioutliner applies styles to selected text. However, Circus Ponies Notebook has the multidex. The multidex is a collection of indexed data :
+ index words
+ keywords
+ highlights
+ dates
+ attachments
+ Superfind – multiple user defined search criteria

For creating multiple connected outlines, Circus Ponies Notebook has far more profound organizing capabilities.


Both programs support attachments, and audio recordings but Circus Ponies Notebook does a better job of tracking what you type with what is being said. This means you can go back to a specific part of the recording by clicking on the appropriate text. Omnioutliner just pastes the recording in one spot, which is really not that useful.

Keyboard Shortcuts

I prefer Omnioutliner keyboard shortcuts for expanding and collapsing a line/outline. Omnioutliner is able to collapse rows and sections without obscure shortcuts. Circus Ponies Notebook has more multiple key keyboard shortcuts which do not work as seamlessly.

This may seem like a trivial difference, but I like to maintain flow when I am writing. I would prefer not having to reach for the mouse if I do not need to or think about what keyboard shortcut I need.


Circus Ponies Notebook allows for multiple outlines in one document. These outlines are easily accessible using the notebook metaphor as well as “Superfind” and an “Multidex”, indexing text, keywords etc…

iPad version

Both Omnioutliner($30) and Circus Ponies Notebook(4.99 – was $30) come with iPad versions. Circus Ponies Notebook’s iPad version works wells as a reader for documents- it is fast and renders attached PDFs well. However, the Omnioutliner iPad version works better for creating or modifying outlines.

Omnioutliner allows for more intuitive editing that does not disrupt the flow of thoughts. Circus Ponies Notebook requires two taps before being able to write. That is one annoying tap too many.

Both iPad version handle attaching media poorly. I managed to crash the iPad while trying to include a PDF in a cell of both Circus Ponies Notebook and Omnioutliner.

Circus Ponies Notebook does a better job of rendering the PDF. Circus Ponies Notebook simply opens the PDF for reading. Omnioutliner requires that the PDF be opened in Goodreader or other PDF reader. I like to use the iOS version of Circus Ponies Notebook as a repository for PDFs and travel notes when I am traveling. Omnioutliner for iOS makes reading PDFs in the outline tedious.


Both programs are excellent for creating outlines. I find Omnioutliner more intuitive because of better keyboard shortcuts for outline navigation and application of styles. Outlines just look better in Omnioutliner.

But, Circus Ponies Notebook has far better tools for organizing and finding information. It is meant as a repository for multiple related outlines of information. The Multidex and Superfind are robust methods of finding information buried in outlines. It is considerably cheaper than Omnioutliner Pro and has many comparable features. But, it is harder for me to create outlines because of the annoying keyboard shortcuts (can be remedied with Keyboard Maestro) and the difficulty of changing styles.

I find that I am using Omnioutliner more for outlines where I need to create the structure and Circus Ponies Notebook for outlines where I want a repository of information that is immediately available or for organizing PDFs for travel.

  1. As an aside, for the exploration of a topic, mind mapping is much more useful than outlining. Without knowing your content, structure is impossible and trying to force structure on while exploring a topic is to push the mind opposite directions.

    David Sparks has talked about how he uses mind mapping to help him write books.


Teaching Holistically

Finland is switching its educational paradigm. They are doing this to create a better learning experience for their students.

Only far eastern countries such as Singapore and China outperform the Nordic nation in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. Politicians and education experts from around the world – including the UK – have made pilgrimages to Helsinki in the hope of identifying and replicating the secret of its success.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic”.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

In spite of doing an excellent job of teaching their students, Finland is actively charting a different route(phenomena teaching).

I think it makes sense to teach in a more holisitc manner. There is no need to exclude math, geography or any other subject when trying to learn a subject. The more mental “hooks” you can create in a topic, the better it is rememebered. I suspect that students seeing the practical application of math, geography, and science in understanding history may gain a better appreaciton for each of these subjects rather than learning things in isolation.

Early data shows that students are benefiting too. In the two years since the new teaching methods first began being introduced, pupil “outcomes” – they prefer that word to standards – have improved.

This seems a great deal more common sense approach than then “No child left behind“. This policy seems to rely on punative measure to create a nation of test takers rather than learners.

Reverse Printing of Scan Snap files on Samsung 3051ND printer

My Samsung 3051ND printer will print the second page of a scanned PDF (from Scansnap 1300) in reverse. This problem seemed to resolve it self with Lion and Mountain Lion but it seems to be back with Mavericks.  I found the solution here – https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2622531. The printer is no longer  reversing the pages, after changing the color matching preferences in Preview.

Read more of this post

Cheaper Insect Macro Photography

I have been frustrated with lighting for insect macro photography. Placing a flash directly on the camera leads to blown highlights and harsh lighting. Trying to handhold an off camrea flash with one hand and a Nikon D7000 with a 90mm lens in the other hand is impossible.

Setting the camera on a tripod with an off camera flash(with diffusion/bouncing) gave great light but I did not have the portablity I wanted to chase insects.Ring lights and led light were more than I wanted to pay.

My cheap solution was to create a funnel of foil that fitted around the head of the flash. Then I placed a plastic bag over the funnel. The entire setup was attached to the flash with a Honi quick strap, but I think any velcro strap should work.

This very economical flash diffuser created a soft light, that gave me the portability that I wanted at a price I could not beat.

Lectures and Learning

I like to learn new things but, I wonder if lectures are the best way to do it. In the lecture format, the professor dispenses pearls of wisdom and we, as receptacles of this knowledge, gratefully imbibe the wisdom of our elders. I wish knowledge flowed this seamlessly.

In the inimitable phrasing of Slosson, “Lecturing is that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the note-book of the professor are transferred through the instrument of the fountain pen to the note-book of the student without passing through the mind of either.”

The Professor’s Lecture Notes Go Straight to the Students’ Lecture Notes

In real life, I just cannot absorb a lot of new concepts at once. My short-term memory is short and I can only juggle so many ideas at once. Taking notes almost feels like an act of desperation. I write frantically trying to capture every precious word while not really processing what is being said[^this is the antithesis of learning].

Trying to capture ideas as a float across the ether into your brain, but never having the opportunity to process the idea is painful and inefficient. It is like treading water next to a whirlpool. If there is one way to kill curiosity and interest – this is it.

Ideas need to be connected in your head; one building upon the other and for complex material if you miss one idea, your mind is swimming in sea of facts without any connections. When learning new material it is better to build a scaffolding of understanding, one fact at a time, rather than trying to reconstruct it later by filling in the gaps of a rather tenuous mental map.

An excerpt from the book Chalkboard illustrates the inefficiency of lectures

The true level of efficiency – whatever it is – cannot be very high since students who skip lectures suffer no ill effects when given instructor’s notes. This was the finding of one classic experiment. Groups of students viewed a 20-minute lecture – one group took notes while another group listened. A third group did not attend the lecture at all. Two days later, all students were given 25 minutes to study from a set of instructor’s notes before taking a test. Scores were the same, regardless of whether students had attended the lecture. In other words, the original lecture had been a complete waste of time.

Another study, with a similar protocol, arrived at the same conclusion with a 30-minute lecture followed one week later by a 15-minute review of instructor’s notes. Once again, the lecture was a complete waste of time. The authors concluded, “The present data raise a question about the function of the lecture itself. Since students who did not attend performed as well as those who did … the lecture per se may be a redundant vehicle for communicating substantive information.”

The live lecture format does not lend itself to repetition. Lectures are a relic from an era without books. It’s no use pretending we do not have books, computers, or the web. Why do we continue to use lectures as a major form of information dissemination? Are there ways to improve it ?

The best lecture experience that I had was when my friend would record a lecture for me once a week. I liked listening to the lecture and if there was a part that I missed, I could listen to it again as soon as I lost the thread of the discourse. My notes and understanding were better because I did not have to play “fill in the gaps”. I did not seem to miss the magical information transfer of the live lecture either.

I suppose one argument is that it is the student’s job to pay attention. That is absolutely true. Often repeated advice is to read the textbook before the lecture. That is great advice, but unfocussed reading accomplishes nothing. I think there is belief that learning occurs when information is passively presented or the act of transcribing etches the facts in memory.

Facts do not become knowledge without providing context and utility. Without knowing how and why you are learning something prevents turning facts into knowledge. There are better tools to use than the standard lecture format to create understanding.

I’m not the only one that has noticed that lectures really are poor form of information dissemination. In the 1970s David Hess Dennis and his graduate student Abraham alone developed multiple-choice test known as the force concept inventory [FCI]. This test was designed to explore students conceptual understanding of physics. Students took the test for the beginning of the semester. They were in a variety of classes with teachers using different teaching methods. At the end of the semester, they took the test again. The course only improved the test results by 14%. Most professors did not pay any attention to the findings. But, Eric Mazur did.

Eric Mazur started his career wanted to be an astronomer. But,

“focusing on the details, focusing on memorizing and regurgitation, the whole beauty of astronomy was lost.”

He eventually became a physics professor and loved lecturing. He was sure that his students would do much better and did not have the problems that David Hess Chris had described. When he gave his students the FCI tests, they did not do much better.

Eric Mazur eventually created “peer instruction”. His method is well worth reading about. Essentially, he assigned material before class. The student then had to answer some web-based questions, ensuring that he has read the material before coming class. In class Mazur gave a very brief introduction to the concepts. He then gave a multiple-choice question. The student answered the question. Then he allowed the students to discuss the question with their neighbour. They are then allowed to answer the question again. So, even though this is a slower method of processing the ideas, he has found his students understand 3 times as much. I find it better to have had a more efficient funnelling system so even though there is a slower flow of knowledge into the bottle, at least the knowledge gets into the bottle as opposed to jerking off the sides and falling on the floor.

What I like about Eric Mazur,s system is that the students are given the “lecture” material before the class. Since they to answer a multiple choice questions based on their reading , they are more focussed because they have a goal or a problem than needs answering. The questions, if crafted well could also highlight subtleties in the material that may not be readily apparent.

The students are forming their mental scaffolding before coming to class. Then their learning is reinforced or corrected through discussions with their peers and the teacher during class. I also like its use of testing to reinforce learning rather that to evaluate learning.

This method is a lot slower that the traditional lecture, but at least there is no delusion that people are understanding the concepts rather than hearing the lecture. This system also uses the teacher’s expertise to the best advantage. A teachers job is guide understanding. They are better used to help students to use their knowledge rather than regurgitating the same knowledge on the blackboard.

The way to really learn something is to apply it to solve a problem.Nothing highlights knowledge gaps than trying to use your recently acquired understanding or explain it to another person. I can read about a subject online or in a textbook. The real use of a live teacher, is not the initial presentation of the material, but rather to guide the student into a more critical[^What information is truly relevant, in what order and under what circumstances.] evaluation of the material.

Dragon Dictate 4 is fast.

Nuance has released Dragon Dictate 4. I am pleased with this update, despite my misgivings. The speech recognition is much faster than it has been in the past. I am not left wondering if what I’m going to say will be translated or not. The last two updates of Dragon Dictate were good but just not spectacular. So, when I was downloading Dragon Dictate 4 I found myself holding my breath.

I was wondering if this things could even work. Dragon Dictate has never been my favorite programs to use. I had incredible hard time initially setting it up, because my AirPort extreme caused interference with the USB headset. This was a program that I had a lot of hangups and shutdowns. With each new version, there have been some incremental improvements. But, the speed of translation has always left me wanting.

However, with this new version, the dream of a near instantaneous voice-recognition has been almost realized. Now, of course there are some problems with recognition of a non-English words. This particular version of Dragon also seems to hang up on its training window. Also although I can activate the program, I cannot seem to get it registered. But, this is the best version yet. I can use his program in real time, without having to wait for a translation. I did try the transcription feature, but that failed miserably. I suspect this has more to do with the recording rather than the technical ability of the program but I would have to explore this feature further.

Markdown for General Writing

Author, David Hewson has written a post about using Markdownfor general writing.


The title of the post is “Markdown: For general writing I really don’t get it”. But, Hewson later qualifies this.

OK. Stop the shrieking. I’m not saying that Markdown is, unlike IA Writer Pro, rubbish. It’s actually a very capable invention. Just one that’s not made to be used for creative writing.

In spite of the inflammatory title and prose, I have to agree in part with this sentiment. Markdown might not have much benefit for the purely creative writer(Fountain is another story though). Writing in plain text will not make you more creative than writing in rich text.

But, to me general writing encompasses more than creative writing. When I write I want to be able to define headings, bullet points, lists and footnotes quickly.

Hewson misses the point by disparaging the time it takes to type markup for bold and italics…


Most Markdown editors do actually format text too. So you get the italic styling and the marks as well. Plus, if you type out the marks instead of using keyboard shortcuts, you do more work for some — four keystrokes for bold and six for bold italic, against two and four keyboard combinations. And if you’re using keyboard combinations… what’s the difference anyway? You might as well be in a real text editor such as Scrivener or Word.

Why is it better to write in Markdown than using the standard formatting shortcuts we’ve all learned over the years? No really… why?

If all I wanted to do was bold and italics , Markdown would be overkill. This is where a markup language outshines WYSIWYG. I can define these things much quicker with markup rather than a laborious trip to the menu bar to find some obscure item to accomplish the task.

I suppose I would eventually learn the keyboard shortcuts for that particular editor to learn footnotes etc… but with markdown, I can use my knowledge in any text editor without having to worry about program specific keyboard shortcuts. I can also write using my iPad without having to worry about syncing issues or being tied once again to one specific editor.

Cool factor

The trouble is fashion — and nothing else — has now dictated that it’s cool to use Markdown as a general word processor too. That stripping out conventional text formatting — the kind you see in uncool but universal apps such as Microsoft Word — somehow unlocks the creative process by removing the supposed distraction of WYSIWYG.

I do not use markdown because it it “cool”. I use it for it speed, consistency and ubiquity. For me this means the ability to use multiple editors for the same text. Markup is faster that a trip to the menu bar and if there is a problem with formatting, I can see where things have gone wrong and correct them as opposed to madly deleting unseen returns and hoping for the best.

Rich Text

Books are read in rich text — and for most of us that’s surely how they’re best written.
And when you come to deliver your manuscript to an agent or a publisher they will, I promise, shriek if you go all geek on them and say you’d like to deliver it in any other format than Word. So if you write in Markdown you have to export it to rich text anyway.

Sometimes, I like to write in one font and print in another. Some fonts just look better on the screen. Markdown makes the option available. To be fair so do good text editors like Scrivener.

I have never submitted anything to a publisher, but markdown to rich text conversion very easy, using any competent markdown editor. In addition you have the option of exporting to Latex, Word, ePub, Open Office etc…

Writing in plain text will not improve your creativity. But, I think that assuming

Markdown was never meant as a replacement for an industrial strength word processor. It’s a superb minimal markup language for people dealing in computer code or writing for the web

is too narrow a focus. Markdown has great application for general writing. I suspect that most people do not need the bloat (power?) of MS word for their day to day writing.

I suspect I am on the losing end of the argument because WYSIWYG makes things look like typing on paper. There is more of a learning curve initially with Markdown, but what you have to learn is some basic syntax. The biggest stumbling block is wrapping your head around markup as opposed to WYSIWYG.

I can write things faster in markdown than in a WYSIWYG editor because I do not have to rely on style to define headings, bullet points or footnotes. The words I type are potentially readable for generations because they are in plain text( I am not dependent on MS Word maintaining backward compatibility). If I write in markdown, I am not restricted to an editor, device or operating system and I do not have compatibility issues.

Markdown has application outside of writing for the web in spite of what Hewson contends. If you are interested some great applications that are useful are:

Transcribing Audio

The problem

I have been trying to transcribe an extended interview. It had been annoying, playing ,stopping and transcribing. Then “rewinding “to the parts that I missed . The constant shifting from keyboard to mouse was slow, repetitive and annoying.

The solution

The solution was using VLC, which has keyboard control. The second step was using keyboard maestro to configure keys for playback,rewind and fast forward. This way I can control VLC without having to switch fous to it.

I can now, play the file, pause and continue my dictation or transcribing without having to touch the mouse or switch focus to VLC.

Lee Valley Tools

We visited Lee Valley Tools yesterday. It is a shop that specializes in woodworking instrument’s and gardening. It reminded me of the old Consumers Distribiting stores, with its catalog based ordering. You had to look in the catalog, write down the product numbers, and take it to the counter for the person to check to see if they had it in stock.

I liked the atmosphere of the store. The first thing we saw was a pumpkin carver and several carved pumpkins. There were no sales people asking if we had found what we were looking for.

Best of all there was nobody under 40 on staff.


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