I Get Questions re: Adonit Pixel, iPad 6th Generation, and Notetaking #amwriting

A reader recently asked:

I read your post about using the adonit pixel with an ipad 6th gen!

I’d like to buy this gen ipad for notetaking @ school. You mentioned this pair worked fine (despite not being listed on adonit’s site as a compatible apple device)

I was wondering if you could describe what it likes to actually write notes on a notetaking app? it would help a lot with making my decision on whether or not to just chuck my pixel for the apple pencil.

First, my disclaimer: I’ve never actually used my iPad for note-taking in class, nor do I use anything else. I’m the world’s worst classroom note-taker. I survived my university experiences by borrowing others’ notes, reading classroom handouts, or by reading the text. Just reading, not taking notes. Occasionally, I’d use Post-its to mark important passages. My ADHD makes it difficult to learn from listening; if I try to actually take notes at the same time the result is that I learn nothing. My primary learning modes are reading and hands-on. I will make notes during hands-on exercises, though.

So given that my experience is 95% based on creating background notes for my novels, any note-taking app will work with the Adonit Pixel; turn it on and it will act like a plain capacitative stylus, or your finger. The problem is that if you want to be able to use its pressure-sensitive and palm-rejecting capabilities, you’ll need to use a note-taking app that supports those. Adonit have a list of apps that support these features with the Pixel on this page.

What’s more important, in my opinion, is choosing a note-taking app that works well with your method of note-taking. If your system works well with, say, Apple Notes, then use Apple Notes. Same for Notability, Goodnotes, or my personal favourite, NoteShelf. There are many others to choose among. I chose NoteShelf for its flexibility and its superior integration with Evernote, but Evernote integration may not be important to you. If the note-taking app which works best for you doesn’t support the Pixel’s pressure sensitivity and this is important to you, by all means go get an Apple Pencil.

Thoughts on Bullet Journalling #amwriting

Bullet journalling is a popular concept now. Be creative with your personal information system! Free yourself from the tyranny of electronics! My ADHD brain said, “Oooh! Something new and shiny!” So I bought myself a beautiful journal and expensive pens, and started in.

Fortunately, the experiment didn’t last too long.

An example bullet journal index, from BulletJournal.com. The problem with this is that I have to find the index page that contains the pointer to the information I want…

Bullet journalling works on the same principles as the old Franklin-Covey paper system I was taught in the 80’s—and the principles have probably been around a lot longer than that. Write things down on they day they happen, or are supposed to happen. Write an index for them every month. Refer back to related things as you write. They work for many people—but not for me.

Paper doesn’t beep, you see.

Paper is cool, it’s sensuous, and I can spend lots of time and money finding just the right journal and the perfect set of pens for my stuff. I’d love to handwrite all my organisational notes free-form on paper, but… I have to have an alarm set to remind me to update them or look at them. And I can’t find things that I need as reference, because I can’t remember what category I filed them under or when they happened, so I have to search all the index pages, and then all the other pages, too. I can scan them into Evernote to make them searchable, which begs the question: Why bother with paper at all?

If I want the benefits of handwriting and a free-form personal info system (with elaborately decorated F-bombs in) I can use an electronic free-form notetaking app such as my favourite, Noteshelf, which is searchable online (when connected to Evernote) and can be tied in to various automatic cattle-prod-zap systems I’ve already set up so as I won’t neglect it. And Evernote’s search functions mean that I don’t ever have to try to write indexes, or try to find something via a handwritten index. (Yuck.) Seriously, categorisation is difficult for me, as it is for many with ADHD. Remembering when something happened is also difficult. The beauty of Evernote is that I can search by anything I remember about a note, without having to wonder what category I put it in, what tags I stuck on it, or when I added it. (I found some writing notes under “Recipes” recently. No, they weren’t about food. I don’t know how they got there.)

I do better with creating a structure that’s both external and automated, so that once I decide to do a thing and get it into my system, it periodically punches me in the face. Eventually, it will get done, or I decide not do to it, and delete it. Meanwhile I have rewards (via Habitica) and punishments (via Beeminder) built-in to help me keep on track.

So no, no elaborate paper tracking systems for me—at least not until they make paper that beeps.

GTD Revisited, 2017 #amwriting

My current GTD system

I’ve been using GTD in various incarnations for a while now:

Other examples exist.

Of course, GTD itself is just a discipline for gathering stuff to do, prioritising stuff to do, and getting it done in decent order. Implementation method is optional—and I’ve gone through several iterations (as shown above) on how to make it work for me.

My problem with my implementation up until this week was that I’d stopped using it. I was using automation to stuff everything into Trello, using it as my collector. But I’d stopped looking there on a regular basis, and had started using Habitica’s To-dos as my collection point—not by intentional design, but by, well, laziness.

Habitica has many virtues. Being a collector for possible things to do is not one of them. The least productive (things that I should just decide Not To Do), the hardest (high-value things to do that need to be broken down more), and medium value but non-urgent things to do all end up at the bottom of my Habitica list, getting redder and redder, their experience points getting higher, and breaking the game by providing experience points, gold, and mana all out of proportion to their true value if and when I finally get them done. I find this horribly demotivating in terms of getting the high-value items (like finishing my novel draft or making an appointment for a physical) done in a timely fashion.

I’m not the only Habitican who’s noticed this problem—and the Habitica developers are considering several different approaches to making this more motivating for prompt attention to to-dos and working better with outside to-do systems. In the meantime…

I’ve cut out the middleman. In order to do my weekly GTD review, I once had to open Trello, and open Google Calendar, and consider where to put my Trello cards on the calendar once I’d decided to do them this week. I then had a rather elaborate and failure-prone protocol for putting the lucky Trello cards into a special column so that Zapier would automatically place them on the Google calendar on the chosen day. Then I had another Zapier automation which would stuff them into Habitica just before they were due.

Now I collect things to do on my calendar. I actually have four calendars in my Google account—one for real, timed “Appointments,” one for “Scheduled” to-dos , one for raw, “Unprocessed” to-dos, and one for “Processed”, prioritised to-dos that have not been scheduled (this is also where I put time blocks so I’m sure to leave enough time for writing and exercise.)

Note that I don’t use the Google Tasks thing. They show up off to one side. I need to see my things-to-do stacked up on the day I plan to do them, as in my illustration. The to-dos are the all-day items.

I’ve convinced IFTTT to dump raw to-dos from iOS Reminders and Evernote into that “Unprocessed” to-dos calendar and make them nominally due on the next Monday. On Monday I do my GTD review. I take anything undone from the last week, delete its to-do from Habitica and stuff its calendar item back into Processed and re-prioritise it. All the Unprocessed to-dos are either deleted or given a priority. Anything that is priority 3 or above is moved to an appropriate day in the “Scheduled” calendar. (I never put more than six items/appointments due on any one day, including writing and exercise—if I don’t have room for something, then either it or something else goes back into the Processed calendar.) I then move leftover Processed to-dos to the following Monday. Zapier then takes all the items added to Scheduled and stuffs them into Habitica at 00:01 am on their due dates.

This way, no to-do hangs around in Habitica for more than a week, growing more and more evil. Monday morning I don’t have to open both Trello and my calendar, because everything lives in my calendar now. Zapier doesn’t have to try to parse Trello cards and stuff them into the calendar, just stuff the scheduled calendar items into Habitica later.

Okay, I admit it. Programming all the automation is—dare I say it?—fun. And eliminating the Trello collection step makes it a lot simpler. So, onward to Getting Things (like more writing) Done.

Scrivener for iOS ― Research Workflow @ScrivenerApp

No Scrivener option here. What the heck?
No Scrivener option here. What the heck?

You’ve installed Scrivener for iOS—and you decide to make use of Scrivener’s research facilities. You’ve found a web page in Safari that has exactly the information on 19th century animal control practices you’re looking for. You tap the export (share) button…

And don’t find Scrivener listed. What the heck?

The fact is that you can’t do this in desktop Scrivener either. For the most part, Scrivener has only ever been able to import a file that already exists as a separate thing. The web page you’re looking at isn’t a file, exactly; it’s a set of instructions on how to display information that lives in several different files at its web address, the URL.

“Nitpicky geek!” I hear you say. “What does that have to do with anything?”

On desktop Scrivener, you’d copy the information, and paste the (text) portion into a file in Scrivener. Or you’d copy the URL and then in Scrivener’s Research Folder “Add Web Page” to save the page as a .webarchive file, and then save that file in your project. Possibly, you’d print the page, and use the “Save PDF to Scrivener” option (I don’t know if that’s available on Windows, but it’s a common Mac dodge.) You might save the text to Scrivener’s Scratch Pad.

There is no way to print to a PDF on iOS, and iOS Safari doesn’t save .webarchive files. There’s no resource in iOS for other apps to use to create .webarchive files. Scrivener for iOS doesn’t have a Scratch Pad. You can still copy the (text part of the) information and paste it into a text file in Scrivener. But if you want to keep the formatting, images, etc. you’re going to need to take a separate step or two, and use some extra apps.

General Approach

The most convenient way to stuff research into iOS Scrivener is by creating a PDF from a webpage. You’ll send the URL from Safari to an app that can translate the page, and save it in PDF form, and from there export it to Scrivener. There is even a benefit to the intermediate “create a PDF” step. At the point before adding the PDF to Scrivener, you can stop and edit or markup your PDF with any of several PDF editors. I personally don’t use any of these and so can’t recommend one, but you do have the option to add this step to your workflow.

The following three workarounds are available free, and result in a PDF that you can add to your research folder directly, or after markup if you so wish.

If you’re not a Dropbox hater, you may like my current favorite,

The Dropbox Method

First, be sure you’ve installed the Dropbox app on your iOS device (the app isn’t necessary for Scrivener syncing, just a Dropbox account, but the app is needed for the rest of this research capture method.)

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save to Dropbox.” (If you don’t see this, tap the “More” button on the bottom row of actions, and turn it on.) Select a folder on Dropbox. Any folder. It doesn’t have to be your sync folder; in fact, it’s better if it isn’t. I have a folder set up quite separate from my sync folder, named simply “Scratch Pad,” that I use for this. Dropbox will save a nice PDF, with a header including date and URL, and return you to Safari.
2016-07-26 15.29.35
When you’ve finished your research, import the files into your Scrivener project from Dropbox by tapping the Import icon in the toolbar beneath the Binder.


  • You don’t have to open another app to get your research into Scrivener; just Safari, and Scrivener.
  • It’s academic-friendly. Your PDF will have a header with date and URL, needed for academic research.
  • If you’re using Dropbox to sync with, you already have a Dropbox account, so adding the Dropbox app to your device is the only prep you possibly need to do.


  • Well, it’s Dropbox. Some people don’t like Dropbox. De gustibus non est disputandem.

The iBooks Method

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Save PDF to iBooks.” The page will be saved, with a neat footer detailing the URL for the information and when you downloaded it (again, important for academic research.) Then go back to Safari and continue with your research, saving PDFs to iBooks as needed.

When your research session is done, go to iBooks and email each PDF to yourself. In Mail, open each attachment, and tap the Share button. Now, you should see “Copy to Scrivener” as an option. Tap it, and the PDF will be added to your open Scrivener project. If you like, you can now delete the original PDF from iBooks.


  • Always available on every iOS device
  • Capture includes date and URL


  • This interrupts your research by taking you to the iBooks app; you have to switch back to Safari.
  • Requires using two different apps besides Safari to get the document into Scrivener.

If you are an Evernote fan, have Evernote on your iOS device, and have both Evernote and Scrivener on your desktop machine, you may like

The Evernote Method

When you tap on that share button in Safari, select “Evernote.” Evernote will clip the page and save it to Evernote in its usual fashion. When you have access to your desktop machine again, print the note to “Save PDF to Scrivener.”


  • This method also captures date and URL.
  • The information is saved in Scrivener for use while writing, and in Evernote for other uses. If you’re an Evernote fan, it’s a plus.


  • The information is duplicated; if you mark up or add information to the document one place, you’ll have to remember to update it in the other as well.
  • It requires getting access to Scrivener on desktop or laptop, which may not be practical.

This used to be my favorite, BIS (Before iOS Scrivener), when my research had to go into Evernote in order to be available on iOS, but I’m re-thinking that now.

Other Options

There are tens of little apps, free to cheap, whose purpose is to stuff things like web pages into PDFs. More pop up on the App Store all the time, like mushrooms after rain. It may be worth a dollar or two to you to avoid the iBooks hassle, if neither Dropbox nor Evernote is to your liking.

When choosing such an app, be sure it will show up in the Safari actions menu so that you can seamlessly save your finds. It also needs to support “Open in…” in order to get your PDF into Scrivener smoothly.

Here are two I’ve tried:

URL2PDF – Web to PDF Converter by Paulo Freitas

URL2PDF in the App Store

$0.99 USD. It’s just what it says. Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, you’ll be taken to the URL2PDF app, where you have a lot of options to format your PDF output to your taste. ( It does interrupt your research to go format the PDF, though.) Convert in the app. Export from URL2PDF to Scrivener (or your markup app.)

PDF Converter – Save Documents, Web Pages, Photos to PDF by Readdle

PDF Converter in the App Store

$3.99 USD. It has the capability to convert URLs and much else besides to PDFs. This extra flexibility comes at the price of no formatting options, unlike URL2PDF. Your research will NOT be dated and URL stamped inside the generated PDF.

Turn this on in the bottom row of your Safari export options. When you choose it, your page will convert; you’ll have a choice of returning to Safari or continuing to PDF Converter. Open PDF Converter to export to Scrivener (or your markup app.)

The Danger of Creeping Complexity

When you've seen one ridiculously over-decorated late eighteenth century building, you've seen 'em all...
When you’ve seen one ridiculously over-decorated late eighteenth century building, you’ve seen ’em all…

I have a regrettable tendency to over-complicate my productivity systems. Generally, this takes the form of adding new tools, in some cases better tools, to my system by “integrating” them, which means not abandoning superceded systems. Net result — I spend so much time updating my systems that I get nothing actually done unless I completely blow off said system. Sometimes, I dig into detail — so much detail that, as before, I spend a ridiculous amount of time maintaining the system, and get nothing actually productive done unless I abandon the system.

Take the UNESCO World Heritage site to the left, for example. I no longer remember which site, or even in which city it was (I’m reasonably sure it was in Germany, though) — at this point, a week or more into my river cruise of central Europe in 2014, I was so burned out on eighteenth century architecture that I didn’t even bother to take a photo of the interior. When you’ve seen one palace with every available surface decorated, painted, carved, or gilded, you’ve seen ’em all. (By the way, a lot of them were done by the same architect. Popular dude.)

My productivity systems are just about at that level of baroque-osity. Damn.

Right now, I am dying on the hill of my Google calendars. They exist primarily so that a) I don’t try to do everything at once, and b) stuff to do gets automatically fed to Trello. I do not need to tag every single thing in them as done, cancelled or whatever; that record exists in Trello. It possibly also exists in Evernote if the thing to do came in that way. But nonetheless, I mark them, and take a screenshot of my mostly-completed weekly calendar to put into Evernote, as if it were a Franklin Planner page.

But I no longer take notes on my calendar, not really. I type them directly in Evernote, or handwrite them in a Noteshelf notebook which is automatically uploaded to Evernote. In extremity I will scribble on a Post-it which gets photographed and uploaded to — you guessed it — Evernote. There they are all searchable by the date I uploaded them, the calendar item that was going at the time, the location I was in when I made them, any other tags I care to add, and the digitized, scanned, and interpreted content gleaned from the scrawled handwriting within.

I don’t NEED those weekly calendar screenshots, and in fact could dig back through my Google calendars if I needed to see them in a week-calendar format. But in thiry-plus years keeping the stupid things in various formats, I’ve had to dig back farther than last month maybe once or twice a year. I don’t need those screenshots; they are the last remnant of the Franklin Way, and I need to drop them.

Then, too, there are the charts I keep in the Hacker’s Diet Online. I am reluctant to stop updating them because of years of weight history charts (mostly up) and exercise charts (mostly blank.) But Beeminder will keep that data for me, automatically, and even spank me when I have a tantrum about watching what I eat and getting exercise in. I need to drop that rock, too.

There, I’ve said it. Perhaps I’ll even do it.

Trello with Extra Zap(ier)s and IFTTTs

http://Zapier.com and http://IFTTT.com can make repeating tasks in Trello.
http://Zapier.com and http://IFTTT.com can make repeating tasks in Trello.
The problem with Trello (or for that matter, Evernote) as a task manager is that it doesn’t handle repeating tasks. And my favorite task game, Habitica, has its own limits — its repeat schedules are much more flexible than they used to be, but not so flexible as a semi-decent calendar or task-only app (examples: Google Calendar, Toodledo.) In addition to this, I really want ONE place to mark off things as done — I find it enough of a pain to follow a bloody list, even one I’ve made for myself. Having to mark things off two or three times — well, it leads me to sulking for a week or three before guilt and boredom drive me back to my lists.

My previous post on Trello, “Trello — Its Impact on GTD, ADHD, The Universe, and Everything”, promised more detail about my use of Zapier and IFTTT. Both these services follow a trigger–action paradigm: the service watches for a particular sort of event in an app you tell it to watch — the trigger. When the service sees that trigger, it sets off another event in a second app — the action. Here are my current trigger–action pairs:

  • Zapier:
    • Scheduled Trello task -> Google Calendar “For Tasks” (This takes care of the rare case in which I schedule a task directly from my main Trello board.)
    • Credit Habitica with Trello completions (Major coolness! The Habitica “action” is unofficial, so that you have to request access via Habitica. But worth it — I no longer need to copy one-off tasks to Habitica by hand.)
    • Events from Google Calendar “Appointments” to Trello (I treat appointments — rare in my schedule — as one-off to-dos.)
    • Evernote ToDo items to Trello
  • IFTTT:
    • If any event starts on Google Calendar “For Tasks”, then create a card in – Trello, Silvers’s Plate board (This is the core of my repeating tasks list.)
    • If every day at 01:00 AM, then create a card in – Silver’s Plate board (This is just a reminder to look at my Habitica daily lists so I don’t forget them…)
    • If card assigned to me in – Trello, Willow’s Journey, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board
    • If card assigned to me in Trello, Manifester, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board (The above two put items from my writing projects into my daily tasks so I don’t forget….)
    • If any new iOS reminder, then create a card in – Trello, Silver’s Plate board (So I can use Siri to remind me later of things I think of while driving.)

The truth is, that I’d use Zapier almost exclusively if I could afford it. Zapier is a much more flexible automation tool than IFTTT. IFTTT’s only advantages: it can automate events triggered by things in iOS or Android OS, such as a new iOS reminder or receiving an Android SMS. And it’s free. Zapier, by contrast, costs $20 a month if you want more than 100 successfully triggered actions per month and/or more than five scripts.

Zapier’s $20 per month gets you 3000 (!) successfully triggered actions — far more than I need. I could use about 300. I wish they had, say, a $5 per month option for 500 triggered events — I’d pay that in a heartbeat. As it is, I use IFTTT when I can to avoid being maxed out on triggered actions.

But still, maintenance of my task list is down to a minimum, and my level in Habitica is climbing higher and higher!

I love technology.

GTD — Streamlining Efforts With Swipes Lead Me Home to HabitRPG


It’s like a . . . challenging romance. No matter how many times I try to leave, HabitRPG woos me back with its charming rewards, its earnest whimsy, its promises that integration with the rest of the productivity universe will happen Real Soon Now… 

Let’s face it — like many others with ADHD, I am an immediate gratification junkie. And nothing else I’ve found says “immediate gratification” like an 8-bit musical flourish announcing a pile of gold, a bunch of experience points, and perhaps a juicy item landing in my inventory every single time I finish a task. 

Evernote remains my GTD “trusted system” for collecting. I really haven’t messed with my simplified version of “The Secret Weapon.” But for tracking tasks once I’ve decided to do them, Evernote reminders don’t work for me. Very little does. I’ve tried Toodledo, Pocket Informant, BugMe Stickies, Remember the Milk… Going back in time, there was the Franklin Planner, and DayTimer. After a few weeks, sometimes even just a few days, I’d start ignoring my “prioritized list.” Then I’d stop bothering to make a list, because after all I was obviously not going to look at it, and then it was back to no planning at all.

HabitRPG has motivated me to dig in a little harder. I have a hard limit, now, of six things to do besides daily routine (which, by the way, I dare not take out of HabitRPG lest it vanish.) Four is more likely do-able. And if I have a meeting or appointment (rare) I have to put that in my list as one of my six maximum things.

But still, it is a royal pain to manually transfer my tasks from Evernote to HabitRPG. And then there are the inevitable tasks that recur on strange schedules. I have a task that has to be done every month on the Wednesday before the third Friday of the month. And a related task that has to be done on the first Monday after the third Friday of the month. (I have yet to find a task manager that will automate that completely, by the way, but I can set alarms two days before and three days after that nasty little third Friday.)

HabitRPG won’t handle directly any recurrence on a period longer than a week.

My latest affair was with a sexy task manager called Swipes. Its main claims to fame are that a) it will pick up tasks directly from Evernote automatically, and b) it will automatically take checkboxes from an Evernote note and make them subtasks. Also, you can snooze tasks from your list for later so that you only have one thing to do on your list.

The Evernote integration worked pretty well and cut some time out of my week. It was nice to see a short list, but the things I snoozed came back (loudly) before I was ready for them, and I had to snooze them again. Either that, or I ran out of things to do, and had to go rummage among the snoozed items. There was no penalty for deferring things. And while the friendly “ding” sound was nice when I finished a subtask or main task, it couldn’t compare to getting gold, experience points, occasional items and a little tune (see above.)

So, I’m back home with HabitRPG. I’ve implemented my own little tracking system for oddball recurring tasks. I’ve also implemented a tag system to cut down on how many things I’m looking at in my list at one time.

And if they implement Evernote integration (Real Soon Now!) I’ll never go a-wandering again.

Why Handwriting on the iPad? (Or why the loss of Penultimate bugged me.)

2015/01/img_2529.pngI’ve mentioned that I have had several handwriting apps on the iPad, but not how I use them, or perhaps more importantly, why.

Firstly, paper is my nemesis. It absorbs everything I want to keep track of into a formless mess, and then taunts me with the knowledge that what I want is in there, somewhere. My response has been to move to digital records as fast as my personal technology has permitted. I became accustomed to stylus input during several years when I used Palm OS devices. Handwritten documents just stick in my brain better than typed ones do. After I switched to an iPad, the lack of handwritten or drawn input was painful. I once sketched on my Palm, and used it for quick hand input when I wanted to take notes now and worry about accurate typing later. So, one of the first things I did after getting my iPad was to find some handwriting and sketching apps for the iPad and buy a cheap stylus.

The quick input function was taken care of nicely by MyScript Memo. I still use this free app from MyScript Labs for taking down contact info quickly. If I’m lucky I can even export my recognized scribbling as text. If not, then I can export as an image and type the information later. It launches fast and gets me writing (without having to watch what I’m doing) as quickly as finding a notepad and pen. But as a sketching app, it stinks. It doesn’t sample your strokes very often, so my drawing comes out jerky and angular (as does my handwriting.)

I’m not very demanding of digital sketching. Think sketchnoting–doodles and illustrations during meetings to augment written notes. If I want to do serious digital artwork, I go to my Mac and use GIMP. So while I’ve acquired iPad sketch apps such as Sketchbook Pro and the Adobe free apps, truthfully my handwritten note apps serve that purpose better for me.

In fact, with Evernote I don’t need much handwriting translated to typed characters. As long as I can get my scribbling into Evernote, it’s searchable, and for a lot of things that’s all I need. For these reasons, I had moved both my notetaking and my journal to Evernote’s Penultimate. Hence, the panic when Penultimate was trashed. I was looking at going back to paper journaling and paper notes to be photographed into Evernote; now, with Noteshelf, I can avoid that. It doesn’t matter how poor my writing is–Evernote will be able to recognize something, and I’ll be able to search. I can take the scribbled, illustrated, largely illegible to anyone but me, notes I prefer electronically and avoid paper altogether.

Handwriting recognition–using handwriting instead of typing, either on-screen or using a Bluetooth keyboard, has until now been a pipe dream for me. Apple was and remains opposed to pen input for iOS on principle, and did not support third-party on-screen keyboards until iOS 8. Even back in the “good old days” of Palm OS, my experience of handwriting recognition was negative. I had to learn a new handwritten alphabet, and even then the recognition process was far too error-prone. It was frustrating–I gave up and went back to typing. As far as recognition on my iPad went, the recognizing apps (other than the limited MyScript Memo) just didn’t fit my workflow.

Now with the advent of third-party on-screen keyboards for iOS, I can use handwriting anywhere, and with much better recognition than I ever got from Palm OS. My preference is WritePad for iPad, for its multi-word recognition and input. (I started out using PhatWare’s Penquills iPhone utility, but a very patient tech support person pointed out that on iPad, that third-party keyboard capability is available in WritePad. NOT WritePad Pro–and in plain WritePad, I must say it’s well-hidden.) I seldom need to hand-correct as usually the phrase I mean is one of the alternatives that WritePad offers. My writing is so horrid if I rush it, though, that I am more often erasing strokes because even I can’t read them. Or the words are as badly misspelled handwritten as typewritten. This causes amusing results when recognition tries to figure out what I just wrote (but hey, autocorrection for typing is just as amusing…)

So yes, I may end up returning to typing for long sessions of word production. It will likely be faster, simply because my net typing speed exceeds my net longhand speed even on paper, and recognition and its associated errors must slow handwriting down. But a stylus is much more portable than a Bluetooth keyboard, and can be used in situations where typing on the iPad screen with both hands isn’t practical (like in the driver’s seat of my car while I’m waiting for a customer.) And my longhand speed exceeds my one-finger typing speed under all circumstances.

Penultimate 6.0 — A Handwritten Software Fiasco

Screenshot 2014-11-17 20.29.48I spent 30 years in the software development industry, leaving before I wrote a mobile app, alas. But the tale of Penultimate 6.0, Evernote’s latest revision to its only in-house handwriting input app for iOS, is a classic tale of software acquisition disaster.

I got heavily into the Evernote (EN) ecosystem in February. I got all of EN’s free apps for the iPad, and deleted most except for Evernote itself, and for Penultimate. It was a cool little hand-notetaking app, with a zoom-and-drift handwriting interface that was unique as far as I know. You zoomed in on your page, turned on drift, and the “paper” would scroll under your finger or stylus at your writing speed. Handwritten notes were easier to get into EN with Penultimate than by photographing a piece of paper, even the fancy Moleskine/Evernote notebooks. So, if I needed to handwrite and didn’t need/want real paper, Penultimate was a good tool. I have two other handwriting apps on my iPad, and have tried half a dozen more. I’ve used the others for special-purpose stuff, but I kept coming back to Penultimate for basic handwritten input. Still, I was always nervous — EN had bought Penultimate from its original developer, and hadn’t put a lot into updates. I was afraid it would be abandoned, like Evernote Hello.

No more. The Penultimate user community is up in arms over the unusable complete rewrite that Evernote unexpectedly foisted on us on Thursday 11/13/14.

Some of it is just quality assurance issues: Crashes. Pen response time lagging unusably. Glitches in drawn characters or objects. This is stuff that you’d expect from a major overhaul. If it were just that, I’d grit my teeth and wait.

But there’s more. No more drift adjusting itself to your writing speed — the major advantage of the the app (in my opinion) is just gone. Poof. No more landscape input, either. That’s a deal breaker for me, as well. I take my iPad out of landscape mode only under duress (i.e., to use an iPhone app or an insanely great iPad app. Penultimate was never insanely great, and now it’s just insane.)

A lot of people are also complaining about the removal of pages within the notebooks — now a notebook is just a long scroll of scribbling rather than a paged book. This one doesn’t surprise me, though. Those pages were never supported over in EN; they came over to EN as a series of images — not even numbered images. Now you just get one long continuous image both in Penultimate and in EN. Yes, your handwriting is still scanned and put through OCR and indexed, but it doesn’t help much in a long notebook.

I never depended on that, though. I kept my Penultimate notebooks short, sensing after 30 years’ experience that if a software company doesn’t support a feature in its premier product, it won’t last long in auxiliary ones.

As well, you can’t store your work in Penultimate any more; you have to use EN to save your work. Folks who had notes only in Penultimate found that those notes were — just gone. Again, I am not surprised — EN is in the web services business, not the app business. If something doesn’t cause people to use their web service, it serves no purpose for EN. I feel for the stand-alone users who lost all their notes, but… well… it was inevitable. EN does not make money from you storing your work on your iPad alone. Still, EN could have warned its users that stand-alone notes were going away. They didn’t.

I’ve come out of the whole business pretty clean; I managed to re-install the old Penultimate, convert all my notes to PDFs, and upload them in that form to EN. I’m now playing with other handwriting apps, and mourning the zoom-and-drift writing feature. I have two handwriting apps — Notability and Noteshelf — that will let me upload to EN. Notability has the better interface, but Noteshelf has tighter integration to EN. I may spend another few bucks and try GoodNotes as well, even though I was unimpressed back in 2013 when I gave its free version a try.


—– Update 11/18/14 12:30 PM. I’ve settled on Noteshelf for its tighter Evernote integration. Noteshelf notes go to Evernote as images rather than as a PDF, which is the only option in Notability. Also, if I make changes to a note, Noteshelf will update that note automatically in Evernote; with Notability a changed note goes to Evernote as a new note and I have to go back through and cull versions by hand.

I’ll also be investigating (cringe) Microsoft OneNote. If it’s even available for iOS (I don’t know) maybe it’s worth a shot. It’s hard to trust a company that is, bluntly, ignoring customers’ data loss issues.

—– Update 11/19/14 11:41 AM. I did a little digging on Google and LinkedIn. It is as I suspected: the original developer of Penultimate left Evernote’s employ in July, just over two years from Evernote’s acquisition of Penultimate. Now, I don’t know this happened, but I saw it go down three times as an employee of acquired software companies:

  • Original developer gets two-year contract as part of the acquisition deal.
  • Original developer and new owners see the future of the software differently.
  • Original developer leaves acquiring company as soon as he legally and decently can.
  • Several months after the developer’s departure, a new “version” of the software is released, containing not one line of the old software’s code.

If this scenario is the one that has gone down at Evernote, then the old incarnation of Penultimate is dead, dead, dead. Evernote will never revise it, nor re-release it as an alternative. There may be legal issues; there are almost certainly technical issues that the current development staff don’t understand and can’t ask the old developer about any more. They may re-develop some elements of the old software (and probably will, given the outcry) but not one hexadecimal digit of old Penultimate will ever be re-used.

Too bad.

—– Update 11/21/14 10:15 AM
Evernote issued a handsome apology on 11/19/14. To me, though, it was significant that

  1. Penultimate 5 isn’t coming back despite the unusable update.
  2. Data loss is still being awkwardly ignored.

I still like the Evernote cloud service, and nothing has been lost or compromised from their cloud, but at this point I don’t trust their app development process. If I can use a third party app to do what an Evernote app does, I will.

Meltdown / Reboot

Screenshot 2014-07-08 22.16.29It’s hard to tell on this tiny graph, but I did manage to write a few words both on the 1st and on the 3rd of July, as well as some more today.


I have a hundred excuses. The truth is that I looked at 100K of revision and my brain tripped out as badly as it did at my first NaNoWriMo at 50K. At the same time, I found that I’d gotten so involved in HabitRPG as to make it almost as big a time-waster as video games.


I also found that my planning system was so elaborate, with some repeating events in HabitRPG, some in ToodleDo, and non-repeating events kept in my Evernote GTD implementation (to be transferred to HabitRPG as they were scheduled) that it was taking an hour and a half just to do a weekly GTD review — and even then, things were slipping through the cracks.

I spent yesterday rebooting Sandra and her GTD circus. I’ve got all my repeating events back in Toodledo, and my one-off events in Evernote/GTD, with no duplication in HabitRPG. Both ToodleDo and EN events are linked to Pocket Informant on my iPad, which is my central console. HabitRPG is no longer a part of my tracking system; instead, I intend to use it simply for a reward, updated at the end of the day. If it’s taking me more than 15 minutes, I’ll simplify further by eliminating it entirely.

And I am tempted to tell the next health care professional who tells me that “You REALLY need to do this and it will only take 30 minutes a day” that he can fold the directions for whatever until they are all corners and insert them into his own anatomy where the sun does not shine. Thirty minutes here and thirty there, and soon you’re talking about the whole freaking day. (I’m looking at you, Dentist from Hell. And at you, Physical Therapist Drill Instructor. Don’t get me started.)