Archive for the ‘Notes’ Category

Taking notes on your family members

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

A couple of days ago, my good friend Chris Ashworth (of QLab fame) tweeted this:

Copying down a cinnamon bun recipe over the phone. @PearNote is perfect for this. Once again a hat tip to @c_had for a great app.

I’d never thought of using Pear Note for taking down a recipe over the phone, but it sounds like a great idea to me.

This reminded me of this past summer. My family and I went to a family reunion with 50 or so relatives that I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. Before the reunion, I got a crash course from my mom on the family tree. I copied down what I could as she explained who everyone was and what their relationships were, but I only got a skeleton written. Fortunately, I was using Pear Note to take these notes, including recording audio. So, later when I wanted to figure out the details about a particular person, I just clicked on their name and listened to my mom’s description of them.

Pear Note is great for taking notes in professional and academic settings, but don’t forget about the possibility of using it with your family as well. It may seem weird at first to record your mom or your grandfather, but I think you’ll find it very helpful.

Taking notes vs organizing information

Monday, September 7th, 2009

When Leo Laporte mentioned Pear Note on MacBreak Weekly, he mentioned that he had not tried it out before because he thought it was “another notebook program for the Mac.” There are a lot of notebook applications out there that help you organize information. Some have referred to these applications as Everything Buckets. I will not take a stance in favor of or against these (in this post at least), but will instead just point out that organizing information and taking notes are two very different tasks. Some of the organizers out there try to blur the line a bit by providing a very simple note-taking function in addition to their organizational capabilities (usually a simple text editor), but they are still primarily organizational tools, not note-taking tools.

Illustrative Venn Diagram

Illustrative Venn Diagram

Pear Note is not a notebook application; it is a note-taking tool. It aims to help you take better notes, not organize them. Pear Note also provides search functionality so that if you, like me, are not into organizing your notes you can just search for them when you need them. However, if you’re not like me and you really want to organize your notes, fear not. You can easily use Pear Note to take notes and use one of the information organizers out there (or Finder if that meets your needs) to organize those Pear Note notes. I know there are people using Pear Note in conjunction with Together as well as DEVONthink to do just that.

Unfortunately, I think far too many people dismiss Pear Note before understanding that it is different from the many notebook applications out there. I wish there was an easy way to distinguish “note-taking” from “notebook,” but I have yet to find it. If you have any ideas of good ways to succinctly communicate the difference, I’m all ears.

Taking notes in less usual settings

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Lifehacker has an interesting article up regarding the effect that taking notes on someone can have on the speaker (as opposed to the note-taker). The basic idea is that taking notes on what someone says affects them such that they give more useful information. The example they use is taking notes at the doctor’s office, which they believe makes it more likely that the doctor will give additional useful information out. Their point was very interesting and something worth looking at, but it’s not the point of this post.

The Lifehacker post got me thinking a bit about the places people take notes. I typically think of taking notes in school or at work primarily, but taking notes can be really useful in the rest of our lives as well. For instance, one of my friends told me a story of how he used Pear Note to take notes on a trip to his accountant’s office. He said it was really useful in remembering all the complexities of tax law that they discussed.

I typically stick to the more traditional settings, but I really want to try some of these less usual locations. Have you taken notes in a less usual setting? If so, please post in the comments to give the rest of us ideas for other places we can improve our lives by taking notes.

Notes on recorded sessions

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Another way to use Pear Note that I didn’t originally anticipate is to take notes on previously recorded sessions. One example that I’ve had several people tell me about is psychologists that record their sessions and later go back to take notes on them. I suspect many researchers who records their research subjects would want to do exactly the same.

This is pretty easy to do with Pear Note. You simply

  1. Open a new Pear Note document
  2. Import the previously recorded audio/video (using File->Import Audio/Video)
  3. Press play
  4. Click the lock next to “Unlock to modify text”
  5. Type your notes while listening to the recording as if it were live

Your notes will be timestamped as usual, so you can use your notes to navigate through the recording just as if you typed them live.

Taking notes on documents

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Pear Note is designed first and foremost for taking notes live, such as in a meeting, class, or conference. That said, I’ve found another use for it that I never anticipated. Pear Note actually works great for taking notes on documents as well.

I recently had to review a 300 page document. Some people like to take notes directly on documents, but I don’t find this to be very useful as I have to flip through 300 pages to find the bits and pieces of my notes. So, I’ve usually just taken notes all on their own, and tried to remember to constantly annotate them with page numbers so I can later refer to the original document. This didn’t work well, as I’d still have to flip through the master document (though at least I knew what page to look for). Not to mention that I’d frequently forget to write down a page number, which left me searching again.

Staring at this 300 page document, I realized that I could use Pear Note to make this much easier. Pear Note supports adding any PDF file as slides, so I just turned my 300 page document into a PDF and added it to a Pear Note document. I then turned off audio/video recording and hit Record (which will record timestamps for keystrokes and slide changes just like normal). This way, my notes and my page changes were all recorded, so I can always get to the appropriate page when referencing my notes. I just hit Play and click wherever I want to look at. Below is an example of my notes on my camcorder manual. I can click on “Program AE” and jump right to the page in the manual that covers that topic.

Taking notes on a document

Taking notes on a document

The word notes

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The word notes has been terribly overused. As I try to tell people about Pear Note, particularly those that are more technically inclined, I find that I continually have to differentiate it from other “notes” apps that have nothing to do with the traditional act of taking notes. The most prevalent of these are what I call shoebox apps. These are apps that you can throw things into (text, media, websites, etc.), possibly categorize them in some way, and find them later when you need them. These range from simple apps that are a repository to drop things in to more complex apps that automatically categorize and map items out for the user.

Additioally, there are sticky notes programs, which are designed for short little blurbs, rather than taking notes on a lecture or meeting. There are journaling programs and even audio recording apps that all use the notes name. And of course there are apps like Pear Note (though few) that are designed to be used to take notes in classes, meetings, conferences, and the like.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing at any point. Users will keep searching for notes apps and have to sift through all of these different kinds of programs before finding what they’re looking for. Of course, if you’re reading this then you’ve likely already gone through this and found Pear Note, or maybe you just happened upon it at some point. Either way, spread the word about Pear Note to your friends so they don’t end up with the wrong sort of notes app.

Search, don’t organize

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

One of the most common suggestions given to me when I showed people early versions of Pear Note was to add a library. Lots of similar apps have a library, which allows you to organize your documents, perhaps file them into groups or folders, and feel organized. This works somewhat well in some apps, but I’m really not a fan of it. I find I have 2 problems with libraries or similar organizational mechanisms. The first is that I never take the time to organize my documents well. Perhaps you’re more disciplined than me, but I end up with a catch-all folder that really does catch all. The second problem is that even when I do take the time to organize my documents, I still can’t find them 6 months later when I need them.

Fortunately, organizing your data is not the only way. Search technologies have gotten so good that it’s not even outrageous to throw all your files in a single folder and rely solely on search to find them. While many of us have not quite gone that far yet, desktop search technologies like Spotlight, Quicksilver, or Google Desktop have completely changed the workflow of most Mac users. I use Spotlight constantly because it’s always faster than hunting through my Documents folder. I believe app developers should start to recognize this and create workflows to support it.

So, with Pear Note I rejected having a library, and instead gave you very easy access to search. The search is actually powered by Spotlight, so I’m relying on minds much greater than my own to make Pear Note’s search great. I hope to make it even better in coming versions, but I already find it much more useful than manual organization in a library full of folders. I hope you do too.


Pear Note's search window

Pear Note search window

Recording online meetings and interviews

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Pear note can make a great tool for taking notes on meetings or interviews that occur in the physical world. That said, with a few other tools it can be used for meetings and interviews that occur in the online world as well. One of the most common tools for conducting online meetings and interviews is Skype, so I’ll use it as the example here (though you can probably translate these instructions to other apps as well). To record a Skype conversation, do the following:

  1. Download Soundflower and install it (along with the Soundflowerbed app that comes with it)
  2. Download LineIn and install it
  3. Start Soundflowerbed, and select Built-in Output (or whatever output you’d like to listen to the conversation on)
  4. Start LineIn, and select your microphone (e.g. Built-in Mic) as the input and Soundflower (2ch) as the output, then press Pass Thru
  5. Open Pear Note Preferences, select Recording, and select Soundflower (2ch) as the audio device
  6. Open Skype Preferences, select Audio, and select Soundflower (2ch) as the audio output and your microphone (e.g. Built-in Mic) as the audio input
  7. Hit record in Pear Note and make your Skype call

Note that you’ll hear yourself as well as the other person while recording. If you’d rather not hear yourself, you can modify which channels are sent from LineIn through the Advanced interface and then customize which channels are being monitored in Soundflowerbed. This will eliminate hearing yourself during recording. Your voice will still be recorded in Pear Note, you just won’t hear it live.

Recording Notes

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

I’m planning to post about different ways to use Pear Note and features that you might not notice at first, but I figure I should probably start by telling you how I’ve been using Pear Note. I’m involved in meetings on a fairly regular basis. These are most often design meetings, where we discuss aspects of the design of something that we’re building and make decisions about how to proceed. The biggest problem I have is remembering all those decisions down the road. I’ve tried for years to take better notes to make sure I get down all the decisions made, but I’ve always failed to get everything.

Pear Note has completely changed this. I use Pear Note to take notes and record audio (I don’t really need video for my purposes). A week later, when I’m trying to remember some particular detail that I know we discussed for half an hour but can’t remember what conclusion was made, I turn to my notes. Before Pear Note, I’d usually have something about the discussion written down, but often not the resolution. With Pear Note, I have the same problem, but I now have a solution. I simply press play, click on the text of that particular discussion, perhaps fast forward a bit, and I can listen to where we left it. This is so helpful that I even have others come to me to play back my notes when they can’t remember what was said as well.


Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Like many of you, I have a love/hate relationship with notes. I need a way to record what happens in meetings, in class, or when listening to a speaker, and notes provide that mechanism. Unfortunately, those notes are frequently lacking details, which makes them difficult to understand after the fact. Even worse, I, like many of you, sometimes get involved in a discussion (or zone out of one) and miss large chunks of time. Even when I do manage to get the right information written down clearly, it’s usually quite an ordeal to find it when needed. Consequently, while better than nothing, my notes historically haven’t really served their purpose well.

Looking at the problem, I believe there are really 3 main issues:

  1. Understandability. I need to record enough context to make the notes understandable.
  2. Completeness. I need to consistently record all the information I’ll need later.
  3. Findability. I need to be able to find the right information quickly when I need it.

Through the years, I’ve tried a number of things to address these issues. I’ll talk about these in reverse order.