Papers (Reference Manager Software)

I am just about done with moving a wide variety of research materials into the research management application [Papers][]. After trying to embrace Zotero for several years and never finding myself using it, and I recently found that the Application Support directory for Zotero had grown to an astonishing 2.82 GB. By comparison, my new Papers support directory, which has more material in it, weighs in at 268 MB. Quite a difference. I by no means mean to diminish Zotero: it is a fine, community-sourced app that is trying to be many things for many people. But its interface was always a limitation for me, and it has limited support for writing applications outside of Microsoft Word. (It’s RTF scan functionality never worked for me.)

I chose Papers over Sente for a couple of reasons:

1. Papers is cross-platform, and, like my writing application of choice, [Scrivener][], appears to be a Mac app that developed such a fierce following that demand for a Windows version made it a compelling option. By being cross-platform, like Scrivener and like Lightroom, my workflow is not tied to any particular platform, only to a small collection of developers who have shown their interest in providing excellent software and support for their paying customers — and I don’t mind paying at all for good work, and both these apps represent that, I think.
2. While I respect Sente’s move to address problems its users were having with DropBox syncing, forcing me as a user to sign up for their service and face an additional charge is an additional cost which I resent. If there were a clear way to support a local syncing infrastructure, I might have explored Sente more. I certainly found their dual note/quote stream very compelling, and I will urge the developers of Papers, at some point, to pursue that more. (For those interested in the dollar amounts: Sente’s free account is limited to 100 references per library — libraries are unlimited, so I guess one could simply produce an infinite number of libraries in hopes of never paying. Each library is limited to 250MB in attachments. After that, you need to pay $50, $30 for academics, for an expanded library.)

I was very close to purchasing Sente, for the dual note-stream of quotations and notations mentioned above, but I balked at the added cost of syncing. Papers’ syncing requires that the two devices be on the same network, but here’s hoping that its developers eventually realize that working with the DropBox library is preferable for some users. (I understand, however, that that could lead some users to have both apps open at the same time and make conflicting changes to the library. If the Mac app handles the syncing with the iOS app directly, this can be avoided.)

Why a reference manager? So I can do away with all the various `/sources` directories I have created in every single project directory for the last two decades. Doing so and working with sometimes overlapping projects meant that I either moved sources around or created duplicates — and if you have ever annotated one copy of a PDF and then lost that copy, with all your really good notes and highlights, you know it’s the same pain as loaning out a favorite book with all your marginalia and have it never come back: some part of your long-term memory has just been lost.

I already feel saner with having a central location in Papers. I haven’t used the application long enough to warrant the trust I currently feel, and I will certainly report any issues or problems I come across. Perhaps by summer’s end I will be able to give a better evaluation of the app’s utility and fidelity.

[Papers]: http://www.papersapp.com
[Scrivener]: http://literatureandlatte.com

Flying Sketch

The latest Flying Meat Software newsletter announced that [Flying Sketch][] is going into cold storage: on the one hand, Gus won’t be doing any more development; on the other hand, it’s now free. Good on Gus (and Kirstin) for their contribution to goodness in the world. Flying Sketch is a great little app for quick illustrations. I’ve used it quite a bit over the years, but not of late. And be sure to check out the other great apps from Flying Meat.

[Flying Sketch]: http://flyingmeat.com/flysketch/

Moving Billings to DropBox

I don’t know why application developers continue to make it hard for their users to put their data where they, the user, want to put it and not some semi-arbitrary place of the developer’s choosing. In the Mac world, it’s particularly annoying when developers do not allow you to make that decision and place the data in their application’s directory within the Application Support directory.

Why is this important or urgent? I use DropBox and I have recently decided to start doing a better job of tracking my time and both the front contenders for the job, Igg Software’s iBiz and MarketCircle’s Billings, assume that they know better than I do where my data goes. Bad app, bad!

There is a workaround, however, and it involves, sigh, symbolic links. This is one standard move in unix that I have just never gotten comfortable with. Some part of me thinks that something should be where it says it is. (This is weird, no?)

  1. Make sure the app isn’t running and that you have a backup of your data! I usually duplicate the folder in Application Support and call it “Billings Copy” just to be extra safe.
  2. Move your Billings folder from /Application Support/ into your Dropbox folder.
  3. Open Terminal.app and type: cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/ (If you aren’t familiar with Terminal commands, this will navigate you to the Application Support folder.)
  4. At the next Terminal prompt, type: ln -s ~/Dropbox/Billings/ ./Billings

What is an app?

The American Dialect Society, which earlier this week named the term ‘app’ word of the year, has the following definition:

> The shortened slang term for a computer or smart phone application.

But Ian Bogost thinks it’s worth [thinking a bit more about](http://www.bogost.com/blog/what_is_an_app.shtml), and it is more than simply smaller functional units, a la the unix philosophy, with each one performing a specific task and that complex tasks require piping data through an array of applications:

> The app is a mixed blessing for computer aesthetics, just like music sampling is for music. On the one hand, we get many variations of the same thing that can surprise us when refashioned in different permutations. But on the other hand, we get fewer coherent, complete takes on things. And there’s a risk that deep meaning slowly seeps out of every unit as each does less and less. Apps and web services like Foursquare and Facebook give us a preview of this potential future agony, one in which the most basic chunk of meaning is the conveyance of a piece of data from a database to a screen and back again.

iPad Application Design

This is the first of what may very well be quite a few notes, as re-blogs, about iPad application design. I think humanist and content creators of all stripes need to be paying close attention to this.

In this case, Matt Gemmell has [some initial thoughts](http://mattgemmell.com/2010/03/05/ipad-application-design) that are worth a quick read.

Edit in Textmate

Remove old version:

rm ~/Library/InputManagers/Edit\ in\ TextMate

Create InputManagers folder:

sudo mkdir /Library/InputManagers

Copy the input manager to /Library:

sudo cp -pR /Applications/TextMate.app/Contents/Resources/Edit\ in\ TextMate/
Library/InputManagers

Ensure everything is owned by root:

sudo chown -R root:admin /Library/InputManagers